Hardware

Apple lawsuit: Why dust in your MacBook keyboard could cost you $700 to repair

The butterfly switches in the ultra low-profile keyboards used in the new MacBook (2015) and MacBook Pro (2016) have been shown to stop working due to particles of dust.

Aggrieved owners of modern MacBooks have filed a class-action suit against Apple over the so-called "butterfly switch keyboard" introduced in 2015. Owners of these MacBooks have complained that the butterfly switch—created in order to achieve the super low-profile ergonomics of the 2015 MacBook—are highly prone to failure, and that Apple continues to sell systems with keyboards they know to be defective.

According to the original filing, "Apple's butterfly keyboard and MacBook are produced and assembled in such a way that when minimal amounts of dust or debris accumulate under or around a key, keystrokes fail to register. The keyboard defect compromises the MacBook's core functionality. As a result of the defect, consumers who purchased a MacBook face a constant threat of non-responsive keys and accompanying keyboard failure."

Despite reports of problems from the original model, Apple has continued the use of the butterfly switch keyboard in later iterations of the MacBook, as well as adopting it in the MacBook Pro.

SEE: Hardware decommissioning policy (Tech Pro Research)

To further add to the problems of unlucky owners of MacBooks with faulty keyboards, Apple's solution to the problem is two-fold. For some time, users have been instructed to tilt their computers and blow out the keyboard with compressed air. If that fails to solve the problem of non-responsive keys or repeated keystrokes, the only remaining option is repair.

Repairing individual keys is practically impossible, due to the fragility of the butterfly switch that holds the key in place. Replacing just the keyboard itself is similarly a non-starter. Unlike other laptops for professionals, such as the ThinkPad (which had a butterfly keyboard of a different sort), the entire keyboard is bonded with the top case, requiring full replacement. For users out of warranty, the top case costs $350 for the MacBook, and $700 for the MacBook Pro, according to The Outline's Casey Johnson, who claimed "The New MacBook Keyboard is Ruining My Life." As Johnson noted, "The path from 'a piece of dust' to '$700 repair' is terrifyingly short."

Non-Apple avenues of repair are practically nonexistent for this problem as well, as third-party or aftermarket repair shops have no access to the parts necessary to fix the issue. Aside from that problem, Apple has generally been hostile to third-party repairs of devices. The company pursued a lawsuit against an independent iPhone repair shop in Norway for trademark violation, and lost, according to a Motherboard report.

Apple has been accused of being unresponsive to user complaints about the issue. While internet petitions are generally unlikely to result in real change, a Change.org petition about the issue received a non-insignificant 21,000 signature by press time. While Mac systems have typically been the choice of many digital professionals, Apple's influence in the notebook and desktop market has been waning as the company has been unresponsive to the demands of power users who have long acted as product ambassadors.

Professionals who use an affected MacBook as their main machine may want to consider being especially cautious with the keyboard. IT leaders considering deployments of these machines may want to postpone their decision based on this revelation.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:
  • Owners of MacBook and MacBook Pro systems with butterfly switch keyboards have filed a class action suit against Apple over dust rendering the keyboard inoperable.
  • For users out of warranty, fixing the keyboard costs $350 for the MacBook, and $700 for the MacBook Pro.

Also see

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Image: CNET

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.

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