By now it’s no secret that there are some pretty big problems with the butterfly keyboards in Apple’s recent MacBooks. Users have been complaining about the issue, which seems to have begun with Apple’s 2016 MacBook Pros, for over two years now, and yet Apple has been reluctant to admit that the problem even exists, much less how serious or widespread it is.
Over a year after the original complaints surfaced, and amidst class-action lawsuits and massive online petitions as customer outrage began to reach fever pitch, Apple finally launched a free repair program, tacitly conceding that maybe there was, in fact, a problem, but emphasizing that it only affected “a small percentage of the keyboards in certain MacBook and MacBook Pro models.” The program, however, only ever included Apple’s older MacBooks, but despite attempts by the company to rectify the problem in its 2018 lineup by making the keyboards dust-resistant, the issue continued to surface even on the newest MacBooks.
Last week, Apple finally acknowledged and apologized for the ongoing issue, but maintained its stance that the problem only affects “a small number of users” adding that “the vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience with the new keyboard.” While this may technically be true in terms of the pure statistics, a new report by David Heinemeier Hansson at Signal vs. Noise reveals that the problem is far more widespread than Apple is admitting.
Hansson notes that Apple’s support statistics are probably skewed, as many users are likely willing to live with the problem, rather than contacting Apple support, especially when it’s in the nascent stages.
The fact is that many people simply do not contact Apple when their MacBook keyboards fail. They just live with an S key that stutters or a spacebar that intermittently gives double. Or they just start using an external keyboard. Apple never sees these cases, so it never counts in their statistics.David Heinemeier Hansson
However, Hansson chose to conduct his own anecdotal survey of the people working for Basecamp, and discovered that out of 47 people who are using potentially affected MacBooks, “a staggering 30%” are actively experiencing the issues. Hansson that these numbers don’t include those who previously had issues but already went through a repair or replacement process. Further, Hansson notes that over half of the 2018+ MacBooks at his company have failed keyboards, indicating that Apple’s attempt to fix the problem has been unsuccessful.
Based on those numbers, Hansson took the question to Twitter, focusing only on 2018+ MacBooks. Out of 7,577 responses, 64 percent had either experienced the problem and had it fixed, or were simply “living with it.” What’s particularly staggering is that the majority of those who responded were in the latter category — 53 percent said that they were just dealing with the problem rather than trying to get it fixed. This means that the vast majority of people who are having keyboard problems likely aren’t contacting Apple Support at all, much less trying to get their keyboards repaired.
While Hansson tries to be a bit fair to Apple in suggesting that the company may in fact have no idea how widespread the problem is due to the relatively small number of reports, John Gruber raises the valid point that Apple must know how widespread the problem is simply because they can look at the number of problems among their own employees, in much the same way Hansson did at Basecamp, and that the company is therefore being disingenuous by claiming that the problem is only impacting a small number of users.
They [Apple] don’t need to look at the number of support incidents from customers. Almost everyone at Apple uses MacBooks of some sort. They know from their own use of the product how problematic reliability is.John Gruber, Daring Fireball
Regardless of how much Apple knows about the problem, it seems clear that the company needs to take a more proactive approach in not only addressing the issue for its current customers, but also doing whatever it takes to fix the issue for once and for all in its future MacBooks, even if that means the company has to compromise on some of its aesthetic principles. After all, it was Steve Jobs who once said “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”