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This week, Apple surprised everyone with an update to its Retina MacBook Air and entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, but one thing that probably shouldn’t be nearly as surprising is that all of the new models still use the same infamous butterfly keyboard design that’s been causing so many problems for the last few years.
Last week, we heard a reliable report from veteran Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that Apple plans to finally fix its keyboard problems by returning to its earlier “scissor switch” design, but with a more modern implementation that will use glass fibre-reinforced keys. However, despite Kuo’s predictions that the 2019 MacBook Air — which wasn’t previously expected to arrive until the fall — could incorporate the new keyboard design, it now looks like we’ll be waiting until 2020 before it gets rolled out to most of Apple’s MacBook lineup,although there’s still certainly a good possibility that the rumoured redesigned 16-inch MacBook Pro could be the first to make the switch if it arrives later this year.
For now, however, the new 2019 MacBook Airs, and the base 13-inch MacBook Pro (now known as the “Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports” version, since it now sports the same Touch Bar as the rest of the MacBook Pro family), have simply gained the same updated third-generation butterfly keyboard found in Apple’s other refreshed 2019 MacBook Pros.
The Butterfly Keyboard Effect
Apple has had a big problem with its butterfly keyboards for about three years now, going back to the 2015 12-inch MacBook and 2016 MacBook Pro. In its desire to produce thinner MacBooks, the company adopted a radical new keyboard design, which ended up being plagued with problems that the company was reluctant to admit to for a surprisingly long time, even in the midst of petitions from an angry mob of users and class-action lawsuits.
Apple eventually rolled out a free repair program last year, while making some small changes to the keyboard for the 2018 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, resulting in a third-generation of the butterfly keyboard. However, this didn’t really solve the problem, forcing Apple to expand its repair program to include not only last year’s 2018 MacBooks, but even declaring the refreshed 2019 MacBook Pro lineup eligible as well, despite making a few more subtle changes to the third-gen keyboard design.
So it’s probably not all that surprising that Apple has already acknowledged that the 2019 MacBook Air and the additional 2019 MacBook Pro debuted this week will also be eligible for free keyboard repairs.
According to an internal memo obtained by 9to5Mac, both the MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2019) and the MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports) have been added to the program, meaning that basically every MacBook currently being sold by Apple will be eligible for free keyboard repairs for up to four years from the original date of purchase.
In the memo, Apple describes the issue as “letters or characters repeating unexpectedly or not appearing, or keys feeling ‘sticky’ or unresponsive.” While Apple likely hopes that the new materials used in the updated third-generation butterfly keyboards found in this year’s MacBooks will at least mitigate the problem, it seems that the company isn’t confident that this will be the case, and certainly isn’t taking any chances on users being dissuaded from buying the latest MacBooks for fear of encountering keyboard problems with the guarantee of free keyboard repairs for up to four years in the event that customers do encounter any problems.