In a teardown of the newly-released MacBook Pro, iFixit noticed a curious addition to the keyboard—a thin silicone overlay placed around the butterfly switches for each key. According to Apple's press release, the official explanation for this is that the 2018 refresh of MacBook Pro systems have "an improved third-generation keyboard for quieter typing," which is a somewhat peculiar explanation—while some contend that the butterfly keyboards are louder than previous MacBook Pro keyboards, neither approached the clacky qualities of full-mechanical keyboards.
Apple has faced a consistent stream of criticism for the keyboards, which were first introduced with the Retina MacBook in 2015. The keyboards have a reputation of failing to register keystrokes, or registering the same keystrokes twice, due to dust or other particles becoming trapped in the butterfly switch mechanism the company devised in order to reduce the thickness of MacBooks. A group of aggrieved customers filed a class action lawsuit against Apple in May over the keyboards.
As it is, The Verge indicated that an Apple representative told them during the release event that the "new third-generation keyboard wasn't designed to solve those [dust] issues." However, iFixit noted that an Apple patent application published in March describing effectively this silicone overlay design, characterized it as a "contaminant ingress prevention and/or alleviation [mechanism]."
iFixit posits that the quieter response from the keyboard is a side-effect of the anti-dust silicone membrane, and that "the quiet angle is, quite literally, a cover up." Given the lawsuits, it could be problematic to announce that the issue is fixed. That said, Apple continues to insist that keyboard failures are not particularly widespread.
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Up to this point, Apple has instructed MacBook users experiencing keyboard issues to tilt their computers and blow out the keyboard with compressed air. If that fails to fix unresponsive keys, the only option is repair, though repairing individual keys is a practical impossibility, due to the fragility of the butterfly switches. In this case, "repair" is basically an at-once replacement of the entire top case, as the entire keyboard is bonded with the top case.
Last month, Apple introduced a keyboard repair program, which covers repairs for MacBooks with malfunctioning keyboard up to four years from the purchase date. Prior to the introduction of this program, for users out of warranty, replacement of the top case was $350 for the MacBook, and $700 for the MacBook Pro.
The low-key announcement and release of the new MacBook Pro units was somewhat unexpected among Apple enthusiasts, as the announcement does not follow the usual pattern of new hardware being announced during WWDC or other keynote presentations. The newly-announced systems use 8th Generation Intel processors (Kaby Lake Refresh), featuring six-core CPUs which Apple characterizes as "70 percent faster than the previous generation."
Additionally, this marks the first time that MacBook Pro systems are available with 32GB RAM options, as design complications prevented this on prior models. This capability has been long awaited by professionals, particularly in photography and video editing. In contrast, Windows notebooks have been capable of using 32GB RAM (as two 16GB SODIMM modules) from the 5th Generation (Broadwell) of Intel processors.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- The new, 2018 MacBook Pro units include a thin silicone overlay placed around the butterfly switches for each key.
- Apple contends that changes to the keyboards are intended to make typing quieter. An Apple patent describes this silicone overlay as being a dust ingress protection mechanism.
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- Apple upgrades MacBook Pro 2018 laptops: A rundown of what's new (TechRepublic)
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.