Apple may soon give up on one of its most maddening design changes. The new MacBook keyboard will revert to the sturdier, clickier keys of old, a prominent analyst reports.
MacBooks since 2015 have featured a “butterfly” keyboard mechanism that saves about a millimeter of space from older designs — a big deal when Apple’s thinnest laptops are just 13 millimeters tall. But the butterfly keys had some critical flaws: They were easily broken. The keys traveled less than traditional keyboards, so typers weren’t confident the computer registered each keystroke. And dust and grit could get underneath the keys, rendering them useless.
Enough Apple customers complained about the mushy, sticky keys that the company redesigned them — twice. In the latest iteration, released on the MacBook Air last year, Apple included silicone film around each key to keep out dirt. But it didn’t work: Customers still complained, and Apple publicly apologized in March, acknowledging that MacBook owners were still having trouble with their keyboards.
Apparently Apple is ready for a change, too. The company is reportedly planning on introducing a new MacBook Air later this year with a traditional “scissor” keyboard, according to prominent Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities, who has a strong track record of predicting Apple innovations. He said Apple will put the new keyboards in MacBook Pro computers when the company refreshes that lineup next year. 9to5Mac first reported the coming change.
Most keyboards use a hinge that looks like a scissor. When you press down, the scissor opens up. When you release the key, springs help the scissor “close.” The scissor-style keys provide a decent amount of travel when you press a key, giving you the confidence the computer registered your keystroke. And they’ve proven very durable.
The disadvantage is scissor keys have relatively thick hinges. As gadgets get thinner, tech companies are looking for ways to save space. But Apple’s space-saving solution didn’t cut it, so it went back to the drawing board.
In typical Apple fashion, the company isn’t simply reverting to its old-style keys. Instead, it’s inventing something new: keys made out of glass fiber to make them extra durable. The keys will feature the same travel distance as previous scissor-style keys, and they’ll be cheaper to manufacture than the butterfly keys, according to Kuo.