Future MacBooks could ditch the much-maligned butterfly keyboard for optical switches

Apple's first 8-core MacBook Pro, the fastest Mac notebook ever, with fourth generation butterfly keyboard
Apple’s first 8-core MacBook Pro, the fastest Mac notebook ever, with fourth generation butterfly keyboard

After years of slogging through various iterations of their “butterfly mechanism” keyboards in the company’s otherwise highly-praised notebook computers, Apple appears finally ready to turn the page.

Phillip Tracy for LAPTOP Magazine:

It is believed that Apple would fall back to using traditional scissor switches on the next MacBook Air and MacBook Pro (as speculated by reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo). However, a recently uncovered patent suggests that the company is tinkering with optical switches, or keys with light sensors.

In the patent, which was first spotlighted by Apple Insider, Apple describes a key with a rubber opaque underside and both a light source and light sensor. As the key goes from an uncompressed to a compressed position, the opaque filter blocks more light so that the sensor knows when to actuate a keystroke. The sensor then detects and measures changes in the light being generated as the key is depressed and responds with a corresponding input. This differs from a traditional key mechanism, which is entirely mechanic and requires a physical connection to be made.

Before you get too excited (or cynical) about this optical keyboard, it’s worth noting that Apple filed the patent in Sept 2016 and we haven’t heard any rumors about it between then and now.

MacDailyNews Take: Just go back to the rugged and reliable scissor mechanism! If it’s a hair thicker, so be it. No one not named Jony cares a whit.

The infamous butterfly keyboard [was created] presumably in the interest of shaving off half a millimeter about which nobody gave a rat’s ass. SteveJack, MacDailyNews, April 2, 2019

2 Comments

  1. Optical or whatever. Apple just needs to use whatever type of switches that won’t have a tendency to jam. I think Apple’s problem is trying to make the keys too low-profile and not having enough key travel. If there’s no room under the key caps they’ll most likely jam if some debris gets between the key caps and switches. Keys with plenty of travel almost never have jamming problems. Normally, a key will only jam if debris gets inside the switch itself which isn’t very likely. Crumbs or dust won’t do it, but sticky liquid can definitely make keys stick. A soda spill can really cause key switch problems. Dust alone should never cause key sticking problems on 99.9% of keyboards. No one is demanding Apple to design some ultra-low profile keyboard. Most people actually prefer decent key travel, so leave it at that.

    Stupid Apple shouldn’t even try to design a keyboard using keys and switches with almost zero travel. Another poor decision of form over function. I’ve studied keyboards and have used many different types as a word-processing pro over the years. IBM had made some of the best keyboards ever. Bulletproof. Hundreds of thousands of key presses wouldn’t faze them. I’d worked at 3278 terminals for years and never had a single jam. Same with IBM Selectrics as a prime example. You can’t have such problems in a serious work environment, especially if you were coding or doing high-volume data entry.

    It’s as though Apple is going backwards. Keyboards should have zero problems. C’mon. It’s almost impossible to screw up a keyboard considering all the proven types of switches that have been used for decades. And then making it impossible to swap out the keyboard alone is just ridiculous. Apple needs to learn where to make compromises when it comes to function. This optical method is probably overkill, but as long as it works well under all conditions, then so be it.

  2. Yep, the current keyboard is garbage. No need for another failure—- optical crap. Just go with what works and then test the hell ouuta something. I hate my MBP. GARBAGE.

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