Apple’s Butterfly Keyboards May Be Going Away, But That Won’t Stop the Class-Action Lawsuits

Gavel On MacBook Keyboard Credit: zhu difeng / Shutterstock
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Although Apple has finally fixed its keyboard problems, it looks like the company is still going to have to face the music for the years of pain that it caused MacBook Pro users who were plagued with repeated problems with the new keyboard design.

Last month, Apple released a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that finally marked a return to the scissor-switch style of keyboard that was used on its MacBook computers for years prior to the decision to switch to the thinner — and more problematic — butterfly keyboard design starting in 2015.

After years of dealing with keyboard problems, irate users first petitioned Apple to issue a recall for MacBooks affected by the faulty keyboards, and it wasn’t long after the petition that another group of users hit the company with a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the keyboard was “prone to failure” and seeking to hold Apple accountable for the problems, especially since the company failed to disclose the issue to customers even after it was obviously aware of the problem.

It wasn’t until a year after the lawsuit was filed that Apple finally acknowledged and apologized for the issues, offering free priority repairs for all of those users that were affected. However, it didn’t back down from using the flawed keyboard design, even on most of this year’s models. Only after the 16-inch MacBook Pro arrived last month did we actually see the first evidence of Apple’s intention to change direction, and it looks like the butterfly keyboard will no longer be used in any MacBook at all by next year.

Still, Apple’s solution may be too little, too late, and despite the company’s legal wrangling to try to quash the class-action lawsuit, a judge has ordered that it will have to face the potential consequences for its years of bad engineering decisions.

Not an ‘Effective Fix’

According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California, will have to face the claims that it did not provide an “effective fix” for the design defects in its MacBooks, nor did it properly compensate customers for their out-of-pocket expenses when seeking repairs.

The crux of the problem has been that users of those MacBooks using the butterfly keyboards — which began with the 12-inch MacBook in 2015, and continued into all MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models released after 2016 — would experience keys that were either sticky or unresponsive when even small amounts of dust or debris accumulated under them. As the original plaintiffs pointed out, this meant that the MacBook could “no longer service its core function: typing.”

While Apple began offering free repairs for affected MacBook two years ago, plaintiffs insisted that the service program was inadequate, since all that Apple did was replace the faulty keyboards with new ones that had the exact same problems, since all of the butterfly keyboard designs had the same defect, and were equally likely to eventually fail. Even though Apple continued to offer effectively unlimited repairs for four years from the purchase of a MacBook, there is still time and effort required in seeking repairs, even for those customers who are fortunate enough to live near an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider.

The class-action lawsuit as originally filed had accused Apple of knowingly releasing defective keyboards, insisting that Apple knew that the MacBooks were defective before it even began selling them to the public, yet continued to equip future MacBooks with the exact same problematic keyboards.

While Judge Davila sided with some of Apple’s claims earlier this year in scaling back the terms of the class action lawsuit — specifically that Apple’s warranty, like any warranty, only covers manufacturing flaws and not design flaws, he did note back then that Apple was still culpable for failing to disclose the existence of the problem in the first place, and may have committed fraud by omission by not doing so.

However, in this latest decision, Judge Davila added that Apple could also conceivably be held responsible for failing to provide an effective fix. It’s an odd bit of legal wrangling, since Davila ruled earlier this year that Apple was under no obligation to fix the defective keyboards under warranty in the first place, but it seems that because Apple did decide to do so — whether for free or not — the company is reasonably expected to provide a solution that goes beyond simply replacing defective keyboards with new keyboards that had the same defect.

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