Apple has, almost secretively, added a small feature to new MacBook Pro models that could mitigate problems with Apple’s butterfly keyboard design.
According to teardown specialists at iFixit, Apple has cocooned their new butterfly keyboard switches in a thin silicone barrier. Essentially, they appear to be covers meant to protect the key switches from dust particles and debris.
Apple’s MacBook Pro models from 2015 and later use a new “butterfly” keyboard switch design. While this has allowed newer MacBook Pro devices to slim down, many users report that small particles of dust can get caught underneath the keys. The result are “sticky” keys — or even keys that stop functioning at all.
Interestingly, Apple made no reference to the protective feature when it announced its new MacBook Pro models. Instead, the company simply said that the new 2018 keyboards were “quieter” than previous generations.
With widespread reliability issues tied to Apple’s new butterfly keyboards and growing consumer backlash, it’s probably safe to say that dust- and debris-mitigation features were more of a priority than making those keyboards quieter.
Or, as iFixit’s Sam Lionheart puts it, “the advertised boost in quietude is a side-effect of this new rubbery membrane.”
“The flexible enclosure is quite obviously an ingress-proofing measure to prevent the mechanism from seizing up under the brutal onslaught of microscopic dust,” Lionheart added.
However, in a statement to The Verge, an Apple spokesperson said that “this new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve (dust) issues.”
iFixit also points out that Apple has a patent on this technology. And it’s true, we reported on an Apple patent application earlier this year that detailed methods to make MacBook keyboards “ingress-proof,” or in other words, resistant to dust, crumbs and debris.
It’s worth noting that the patent application was first filed in September 2016 — just a month before Apple unveiled its MacBook Pro models with a second-generation butterfly keyboard.
In the wake of massive online petitions and class-action lawsuits, Apple began a free repair program for faulty MacBook Pro keyboards late last month.