Earlier this week, Apple announced an update to its top-of-the-line MacBook Pro laptops. Most notably, that update included a change to the keyboards that have been causing problems for some customers in recent years. Apple said on Tuesday that the change related to a material in the laptop’s third-generation keyboard, which uses a butterfly-switch mechanism. Now we have a little more insight into what those changes might be.
According to iFixit, the company that publishes online repair guides, sells parts, and shares information on consumer products after it has torn them apart, the new MacBook Pro keyboard does appear to have some different materials in it. But those changes still don’t shed a whole lot of light on exactly which problem Apple is trying to solve for, as the iFixit report points out.
Using specialized equipment (called Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, for those who really want to know), iFixt discovered at least two material differences in the 2019 MacBook Pro keyboard.
Kyle Wiens, the cofounder and CEO of iFixit, notes that the metal dome switch that goes on each key—which he compared to the lid on a jar of jam, because of the way it pops back up when you press on it—appears to now be of a different material. There’s a “difference in surface finish from the 2018 version to the 2019 version,” which indicates that Apple may be using a different metal, heat treatment, or both.
The transparent switch cover material also appears to be made of a different kind of plastic coating. “The cover in the 2018 model is semi-opaque, somewhat tacky, and feels like silicone. The new model is clearer and smooth to the touch,” the report notes. Readings from the FTIR analysis also seem to support that these are two different polymers, with the newer one strengthened with some sort of nylon material.
An Apple spokesperson declined to comment when asked about the iFixit teardown report.
Apple has said before that the “vast majority” of its laptop customers haven’t had issues with the keyboard, but since the launch of the 2015 MacBook, customer complaints have ranged from stuck keys to repeating keys to the space bar or shift keys not working.
While these new keyboards may include different materials, they are not newly designed. The keyboards on the 2019 MacBook Pros have the same butterfly-switch mechanism that was first introduced in the 2015 MacBook, although the butterfly-switch design has received updates since then.
Wiens says he’s skeptical these material changes will fix all of the issues with the newer keyboards. “What’s clear is that they had multiple failure modes, and Apple has addressed it with multiple solutions,” he says. Wiens points out that in 2018, Apple introduced another kind of keyboard fix with a silicone membrane that went under each key. “Will these solutions fix the issue? Time will tell,” he says. “I’m skeptical, because the fundamental design is still the same.”
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