According to iFixit, Apple has made two changes to the new keyboards that are on the recently announced special bumpy MacBook Pro. The changes appear to be a new material underneath the key on the switch cover and a new dome switch that may be more resistant. And while it's far too early to say whether these changes will make a difference in improving keyboard reliability, it's clear right now that Apple is still just adjusting its design instead of overhauling it.
IFixit-teardown was needed to find out what Apple's design changes were, because the company refused to explain them without telling reporters that it had used a "new material". So the teardown began, and the results are subtle enough to have taken special scientific equipment (and will take even more in the future) to determine the difference.
The first of iFixit's findings is that Apple actually uses a new material inside part of the key inside the keyboard. It is a polymer above the keyboard switch itself that was previously a complex polymer, and now appears to be essentially pure old nylon, according to a FITR analysis. Apple began using a silicone membrane inside the keyboard last year. The company insisted that it was there to reduce noise, despite patent applications and service documents confirming that they were meant to protect against debris. This new material does not change the general membrane, but instead it is another type of polymer that lies beneath it.
The newer material is "clearer and smooth to touch," according to iFixit. Although why [the change] can help, some are guessing. Maybe it's better not to let dust stand under it? At this point only Apple really knows.
The second change is even more mysterious. On Apple's butterfly keyboard, there is a metal dome switch underneath each key. That's what makes the electrical connector that detects a keystroke. Apple seems to have made minor changes to these switches in the new keyboard.
iFixit states that "the difference in surface finish from the 2018 version (left) to 2019 (right) indicates that Apple may use a revised heat treatment or alloy, or possibly both." A full analysis of what has changed However, requiring much more sophisticated equipment than iFixit now has access to. Again, it's a question Apple could answer at any time.
However, it seems clear that these metal switches are probably guilty of many (but probably not all) of the keyboard failures people have experienced. They are just small and delicate – they work by brushing down and pushing themselves up "like a very small jam or Snapple cap," says iFixit. It's not hard to imagine that the world's smallest dirt cover deforms under the kind of stress all portable keyboards have to endure.
So it makes sense that Apple gets iterating on this part and trying to make it as elastic as possible – but it is also certain that there is a limit to how effective that strategy can be. When it comes to what can break these switches on current keyboards, theories go from dust to grit to metal mass. A very popular Reddit post from earlier this month puts the case out for the latter.
Apple's butterfly keyboard has undergone several revisions since its debut on the MacBook in 2015, but no one has managed to fix the underlying reliability issue. The second generation came with the 2016 MacBook Pro, with a small update in 2017 to curb noise. Problems continued and the 2018 MacBook Pro came with a third generation keyboard with silicone membranes. Now in 2019, the third generation has been tweaked with the new switch cover and replacement materials.
All the keyboards sold over the last four years, as well as the new 2019 models, are now covered under a new repair program, and Apple has said keyboard repair times have also been shortened. It is up to you to decide whether the more comprehensive repair program should be the cause of emergencies or concerns.
It is impossible to know right now whether the new design described by iFixit will solve the reliability issues once and for all. What we can say for sure is that the basic design of the butterfly keyboard has not changed. This means that when a switch – even if rarely happens now – it will require intensive repair.
At the end of the day, Apple's butterfly keyboard has a much bigger flaw, one that this model's tweaks can't fix: for many people, the belief in this design has simply been lost. Apple could theoretically fight the loss of trust with more goodness, but it certainly has not been forthcoming so far. Getting the company to admit that it can be a problem has been a year-long process.
Correction : The original version misidentified the polymer change as on the silicone membrane, not the switch cover.
When it comes to consumer confidence in Apple's butterfly keyboards, different materials will not make a significant difference. . The third section has been corrected and we apologize for the error.