According to iFixit, Apple made two changes to the new keyboards found on its recently announced MacBook Pro. The changes seem to amount to a new membrane that could be more effective in repelling debris and a new dome switch that could be more resistant. And while it's too early to say whether those changes will make a difference in improving keyboard reliability, what is clear at the moment is that Apple is still modifying its design instead of reviewing it.
The disassembly of iFixit was necessary to find out what Apple's design changes were because the company refused to explain them beyond telling reporters that they had used a "new material". So the dismantling began, and the results are subtle enough to have taken special scientific equipment (and take even more in the future) to determine the difference.
The first of iFixit's discoveries is that Apple is, in fact, using a new material for the polymer membrane inside the keyboard. It is essentially an old nylon now, according to a FITR analysis. Apple started using a polymer 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 designed to protect against debris.
The newer material is "lighter and softer to the touch," according to iFixit. Although why the change could help is a guess. Maybe it's better not to let the dust get stuck under it? At this point, only Apple really knows for sure.
The second change is even more mysterious. On the Apple butterfly keyboard, there is a metal dome switch under each key. It is what makes the electrical contact that registers a keystroke. Apple seems to have made minor changes to these switches on the new keyboard.
iFixit says that "the difference in surface finish from version 2018 (left) to 2019 (right) indicates that Apple may be using a revised heat treatment or alloy, or possibly both. "However, a full analysis of what has changed will require a much more sophisticated equipment than iFixit currently has access to. Again, it is a question that Apple could ask. answer at any time.
What does seem clear, however, is that these metal switches are probably to blame for many (though probably not all) of the keyboard failures that people have been experiencing. and delicate, they work by jumping down and pushing back "like a really small lid or Snapple cap," says iFixit, it's not hard to imagine that the smallest Snapple cap in the world e deformed under the kind of stress that all keyboards on laptops support.
Therefore, it makes sense that Apple is iterating in this part and trying to make it as strong as possible, but it is also true that there is a limit to the effectiveness of that strategy. As for what might be breaking those switches on current keyboards, theories range from dust to sand to metal fatigue. A very popular Reddit publication earlier this month presents the case of the latter.
Apple's butterfly keyboards have undergone several revisions since its debut on the MacBook in 2015, but none has managed to solve the underlying reliability problem. The second generation came with the MacBook Pro 2016, with a slight update in 2017 to muffle the noise. The problems persisted, and the MacBook Pro 2018 came with a third-generation keyboard with silicone membranes. Now, in 2019, the third generation has been modified with the new membrane and switch materials.
Each of those keyboards sold in the last four years, as well as the new 2019 models, are now covered by a new repair program, and Apple has said that repair times for keyboard problems have also been reduced. It is up to you to decide if the most complete repair program should be cause for relief or concern.
It is impossible to know at this time if the new design detailed by iFixit will solve the reliability problems once and for all. What we can say for sure is that the fundamental design of the butterfly keyboard has not changed. That means that when one breaks down, even if that happens more rarely now, an intensive repair will be required.
At the end of the day, the Apple butterfly keyboard has a much larger flaw, one that the settings of this model can not fix: too many people have simply lost faith in this design. Apple, theoretically, could combat that loss of confidence with more sincerity, but certainly has not been presented so far. Getting the company even to admit that there may be a problem has been a process of years.
When it comes to consumer confidence in Apple's butterfly keyboards, the different materials will not make a big difference.