You Won’t Believe How Much Apple’s Flawed ‘Butterfly Keyboard’ May Have Cost the Company

Apple MacBook Pro Butterfly Keyboard Credit: Nanain / Shutterstock
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This month’s long-awaited MacBook Pro debut was arguably the biggest step in undoing the most unpopular changes Apple made to its MacBook lineup back in 2016, but the company actually began the process two years ago by nixing another controversial feature when it released the last Intel-based 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019.

We’re talking of course about Apple’s infamous butterfly keyboard, which made its first debut on the ultra-slim 12-inch MacBook before finding its way into every other MacBook made from 2016 until late 2019.

The butterfly keyboard may have signalled everything that was wrong with the MacBook era of the last five years. It was the first step in Apple’s obsession with slimming down the MacBooks as much as possible, which also arguably led to other controversial decisions like the removal of the MagSafe connector and many other useful ports in favour of the smaller USB-C standard.

Even though USB-C ports were versatile enough to be used for just about everything that the prior single-purpose ports offered, they required pro users to carry around a bagful of dongles to guarantee connectivity.

More cynical folks often suggested that the switch to USB-C was little more than a money grab by Apple — an opportunity to sell adapters and dongles at higher profit margins. However, it’s quite likely that thought never even entered the minds of Apple’s designers, engineers, and executives. Instead, they were just likely way too focused on design at the expense of functionality.

New information now suggests that increasing profits was likely the farthest thing from Apple’s mind, as it continued to stubbornly stick to its butterfly keyboard design despite the skyrocketing cost of providing warranty repairs and service programs from thousands of failing keyboards. Not to mention the class-action lawsuit that Apple is still facing over the issue.

Numbers from Apple’s latest Form 10-K financial report uncovered by MacRumors show a significant dip in Apple’s warranty-related expenses in the years following the elimination of the butterfly keyboard from its MacBooks, strongly suggesting Apple was losing over a billion dollars each year by sticking with that keyboard design.

How Much Did the Failure-Prone Butterfly Keyboard Cost Apple?

From 2016 to 2018, which was the height of the butterfly keyboard era, Apple reportedly spent over $4 billion per year in warranty-related expenses.

In 2019, that dipped slightly, to $3.8 billion, however the 2020 and 2021 numbers fell significantly to $2.9 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively.

To be fair, Apple did report $4.4 billion in warranty expenses in 2015, which would have been before the first butterfly keyboard came along, so it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions from this, particularly since Apple doesn’t provide a breakdown of its warranty expenses. So, there could be many other factors contributing to this reduction in expenses.

Still, considering how much it costs Apple to replace MacBook keyboards, combined with the service programs that Apple offered, it’s hard to believe that these didn’t make up a significant portion of those additional expenses.

As anybody who has had a MacBook keyboard replaced outside of warranty knows, these don’t come cheap. Apple has to swap out the entire top portion of the MacBook case, including the trackpad and battery, with an out-of-warranty price that can run upwards of $500 depending on the model involved.

That said, Apple’s butterfly keyboard service program continues, with affected MacBooks eligible for repairs for up to four years. This means Apple is still undoubtedly paying to resolve these problems, and will likely continue to do so until 2023 — four years after the last MacBooks with butterfly keyboards were sold.

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