The MacBook keyboard fiasco is way worse than Apple thinks

Apple keep insisting that only a “small number of customers have problems” with the MacBook keyboards. That’s bollocks. This is a huge issue, it’s getting worse not better, and Apple is missing the forest for the trees.

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.

So here’s some anecdata for Apple. I sampled the people at Basecamp. Out of the 47 people using MacBooks at the company, a staggering 30% are dealing with keyboard issues right now!! And that’s just the people dealing with current keyboard issues. If you include all the people who used to have issues, but went through a repair or replacement process, the number would be even higher.

Worth noting here is that the 3rd generation membrane keyboard did nothing to fix the issues. Six out of thirteen – nearly half!! – of the 2018+ MacBooks we have at the company have a failed keyboard.

I backed up those figures with a Twitter poll that has over 7,000 respondents already. That’s a 63% failure rate!! But Apple is only seeing 11% of those, as the vast majority of customers are simply just living with their broken computer:

This is a disaster. A complete unmitigated disaster.

But as always, in a time of crisis, the event itself is less indicative of the health of a company than the response. Is Apple going to accept that they’re currently alienating and undermining decades of goodwill by shipping broken computers in mass quantities?

60 thoughts on “The MacBook keyboard fiasco is way worse than Apple thinks

  1. I really appreciate you highlighting the awfulness of Apple’s approach here. I’m in the market for a new computer, but when I went to look at the current line I couldn’t help but notice: No SSD drives standard? Questionable keyboards? For premium prices?

    I’m genuinely scared, because I’ve locked myself into the OSX ecosystem – I couldn’t imagine transitioning off Apple for programming work. But here I am with a 5-year old laptop, and I’m scared to blow my equipment budget on something that is slow and/or doesn’t work. I never thought I’d say such things about Apple.

    1. If you can wait until the end of the year, there maybe updates to the MacBook Pro lineup that would resolve the issue. I’d be surprised if there weren’t. Apple would be foolish to let this go on another year.

    2. To be fair, the laptops come with some of the fastest SSDs available standard. Only the iMac still has non-flash standard.

    3. Your’e wrong. All MacBooks come with the fastest SSD’s available anywhere – much faster than most normal commercal SSD’s, in fast – and they’re all standard. Don’t know where you’re getting your info from. There’s only one Mac that doesn’t – the base model of the cheapest iMac desktop.

    4. You’re correct, I was indeed looking at a standard iMac when I saw the HDD and Fusion drives. I was just shocked thought you could get a HDD on the latest model of an Apple product.

    5. Simon: I can’t speak for the original poster but I was comparing iMacs to MBPs because while portability is useful, there’s a significant cost differential and someone who works mostly at a desk can weigh the benefits of infrequent mobility vs. the significant cost differential and benefits of having a decent keyboard and much larger display.

      Over the years, iOS has soaked up almost of my conference and meeting usage so I have the option of reconsidering the work style I adopted two decades ago.

    6. I was merging some related threads that DHH has been tying together: Apple seems, to my eyes, to be losing their high-quality armor. For the first time in 10 years of professional development, when I went to shop for an Apple product I was hung up on “is this going to work?”. I’ve been mulling desktop vs. laptop. iMacs start with HDDs or Fusion drives, and MBPs have these keyboard issues. I’m just pointing out that I’m actually hesitating to spend my equipment budget on Apple, and that’s never happened before.

  2. I had the keyboard issue on my work macbook 2017 13″ and that was the reason why I bought myself a Windows laptop. Even though I like macOS a lot.
    This keyboard was the first keyboard that failed for me on itself (juice spill does not count…)

  3. It’s Apple, what did you expect? They have prioritized form over function since Jobs insisted the Apple III shouldn’t have a fan, even though it needed one badly. You’re just using the keyboard wrong! The laptop is a few millimeters thinner, what are you complaining about the keyboard for? Watch Louis Rossmann’s videos, the number of unfixed design issues in Apple’s hardware is staggering. Apple is not going to fix this, just like they haven’t fixed any of these other issues.

  4. And yet. For some unfathomable reason of convenience you and the people suffering from this issue keep buying the same products by the same company that repeatedly demonstrated no interest in fixing the issue. You are in a bad relationship, seek shelter!

    This is not acceptable. I don’t have an idea if some bullshit hashtag will accomplish the same nothing as it did for actresses but the entire industry has known that Apple was designing bullshit to stick to their (pretty much body shaming) “always thinner” dogma.

    People who buy these shitty machines. People who make them and those that complain in between. I’m a tech person. I would buy a Mac (laptop) but only IF:
    * Fucking Cherry Thin-Profile Switches
    * “2day” (20 hours) Battery life
    * 4 USB-C ports
    * New USB-C MagSafe solution, charge every fucking Port!
    * Decent up to date CPU/ GPU

    My dumb suggestion:
    Make use of all the garbage that you developed to reign in your customer base. You’re currently focussing on college kids that have too much money. What you need to gain back recognition is:

    15/17 inch screen
    base 16GB RAM with reasonable extension prices
    512GB SSD with reasonable extension (2 slots free)
    Dedicated HDMI Port
    All other outside connections USB-C 3.x

    I don’t know how many emails like this you have to receive to see what a MacBook “Pro” should look like.

  5. Apple should start buying back these broken macbooks. My 2018 macbook air doesnt have issues yet but then again I only use it to type up a piece a couple times a month.

  6. I’m lucky. My keyboard works. Unfortunately, the damn thing is so loud that I get kicked out of the room when I type!

  7. I’m going to be on my 4th 2018 15″ macbook pro (5 keyboard failures because they fixed the first one twice) because of these horrible keyboards. They all get duplicate keypress issues. The keyboards are defective out of the box, with symptoms showing up 5-14 days later. For example, on my last MBP the “A” key started duplicating after 5 days, and it was triple and even quadruple pressing a few days later. Apple has just resorted to replacing my MBP since the keyboards are basically defective out of the box. They’ve also wasted more money than what i spent LOL

  8. I’m an IT Director / Software Engineer, responsible for about 80 Mac laptops at my organization, and we’ve been using Macs exclusively for almost a decade now. But when it came time to retire my own beloved ~2013 Macbook Pro, I looked at the lineup of Macs and thought:

    – Only USB-C connectors? I’m not ready.
    – Processors aren’t really any faster than my 4-year-old machine
    – Can’t get more RAM (at the time I had 16GB, but you can get 32 now)
    – The keyboards break a lot! I’m a touch-typist. I use vim. Keyboard has to work.

    I got a Surface Book 2. Now I spend my day in WSL/Debian, and I’ve never been happier with my dev machine. The keyboard on this laptop is fantastic! As is just about everything else.

    My point is that I had no price ceiling on a laptop: I was expecting to just get another top-of-the-line Macbook. But I was pushed away by Apple’s consistently poor decisions about their hardware lineup. I’m glad I took a chance, because this hardware is a real breath of fresh air.

    1. Some people have said that WSL doesn’t compare to Mac/CLI but you are clearly have a ball!

      Also, what Windows laptop did you get and does it have a 16:9 screen?

  9. Regarding Twitter statistics, that’s just the way social media bubbles work: you know a whole lot of people who hold it wrong. Regarding Basecamp stats: not too surprised you’re hiring people just like you who also hold it wrong. In that note, my Macbook Pro keyboard is also broken. Can I get a job at Basecamp?

  10. Apple should look to Lenovo on how to build a keyboard. The Lenovo Carbon X1 is a wonderful machine. Plenty thin, fast and strong. And the keyboard! SO nice!

  11. Interesting that you mentioned the S key and spacebar because those are the two keys that regularly repeat for me. MacBook Pro 2016

  12. My MBP mid 2015 had the battery swelled few weeks back. I had to replace it. I don’t like and I don’t trust other people to sniff inside my workstation thus I’ve replaced it myself. Yet, another issue that Apple didn’t register. The old battery had only around 150 cycles.

  13. It’s difficult to get people to admit they’ve been had. As an Apple customer over the last 15 years or so, it sucks that the company holds customers like us with such contempt. But here’s the thing… My’11 MacBook is doing fine. It had its mother board replaced due to a defective, soldered on motherboard a few years ago. I’m no developer and I don’t need a super fast computer, but I will need to replace it in the next year or 2. Unless Apple gets its $hit together, I’m gone. No more MacBooks or iPhones. Hope timmy apple or maybe apples board is paying attention to what is happening.

    1. I think Tim is actually the problem here: Apple has cut a lot of corners since he took over. HDMI adapters no longer ship with the Mac Mini. Extension cords no longer ship with the MacBook Pro. Apple has actually INCREASED prices on its Macs.

      Tim is just cheap, and he is the new John Sculley, trying to squeeze every cent out of customers. Apple’s new focus on services, which they do very poorly, is further proof of this. They have a quarter of a trillion in the bank, and the best they can do with that money is to offer a credit card? Where’s the self-driving car? Where’s the Watch with a non-invasive glucose monitor? You know, all that next-level stuff.

      Why does Tim let Jony Ive keep making laptops thinner and thinner? MacBook Pro customers really want longer battery life, more powerful CPUs, and a better keyboard, which can only be done with a thicker laptop.

      Tim was a great COO, but he’s a terrible CEO.

  14. I am using (and buying) Macs since 1988. Currently i am still using a 2012 11″ MBA and am worried that it could break any day. I would love to buy a new Laptop (preferably 11″ again). But Apple isn’t offering anything usable (i.e. with a functioning keyboard).

    Instead, we got Oprah.

    What a shitshow!

  15. I’ve used windows laptops my whole life and was finally ready to jump to a MacBook when I replaced my laptop last year. They’ve really ruined it with the ridiculous thinness over form. No ports and shot keyboard. I mean you can’t even plug your lightning headphones into a MacBook like wtf?

  16. I think the proper headline is, “they are worse than Apple is willing to externally admit”.

    I would be shocked if Apple only looks at return data as the sole metric in the ongoing keyboard issues. It’s likely the most favorable metric to discuss publicly, but does not indicate it’s the only metric they consider.

    It’s likely they’ve polled all of their staff in the same manner you did DHH and reached similar conclusions.

    It’s also likely they are coordinating with folks with large corporate Mac deployments to get a sense of the scope issue.

    Considering Apple is one of the top brands in the world, they likely have dedicated folks doing MacBook brand sentiment analysis on social media to gauge the negative impact these keyboard problems has had on the brand’s reputation.

    They key question is, does Apple stop a MacBook innovation cycle in progress to address these issues right now? Or can they simply wait a year and ship an all knew design that won’t suffer from the issue I’m a year or so?

    I’d rather them continue working on the next generations macbook design that likely trades off other advantages to give the keyboard more room to operate correctly.

    I think that it’s a bummer these machines are failing, but just because their current actions have been limited to offering a keyboard replacement program, doesn’t mean they don’t have good data on the issue and aren’t perusing a long term fix.

  17. I have a 2017 MBP. Apple replaced my keyboard and the new one still has issues. I lost use of the ‘j’ key for 2-3 weeks before it started working properly again. I was under the impression that the newer models had fixed this, and demanded a new MBP from work but am dismayed to learn that even the new 2018 models have this issue also. I too was just living with it for a while.

  18. I absolutely agree with the premise of this post, but I’m convinced there are much better ways to build the argument than “here’s some evidence from a much smaller sample than Apple’s sample”

    It feels like you’re desperately trying to prove yourself right than looking at the issue objectively. You’re assuming Apple haven’t taken into account the unreported issues and you’re also assuming your data is representative. Both assumptions are just that – assumptions.

    We really need big voices which would traditionally be Apple supporters to shout about this, but with better arguments.

    Gruber did this less scientifically but much more effectively: https://www.wsj.com/graphics/apple-still-hasnt-fixed-its-macbook-keyboard-problem/

  19. I used to work for Flex the apple care provider for j79 and j80 macbook pros. These laptops are absolute garbage. The price is ridiculous, my msi outperforms anything apple makes and I paid $750 for it. We would regularly get anywhere from 2000 to 4000 units in A DAY for repairs and at least 75% of them were keyboard related. And it’s not like you can just fix individual keys or even the keyboard. It’s a whole new topcase… apple makes garbage laptops, uses recycled parts and charges more than anyone else. These laptops are more of a status symbol than anything, I’d never buy one

  20. In all fairness, people with problems are more likely to answer a poll such as that. still, there is no such thing as a “small percentage” of a design flaw. it’s present in all of them; it’s just a matter of time until it fails.

  21. And then, to compound the issue, replacing the keyboard is a non-starter because it uses about 30 rivets to hold it into the case. Other manufacturers, you can order and put it in yourself in less than 10 minutes using a jeweler’s screwdriver.

  22. I’ve had three MacBooks, from first-gen to third-gen butterfly keyboards, and they’ve ALL had problems. My solution: I bought a late 2017 MacBook Air 13″ — the last model with the scissor keys. I gave up a Retina display for a functional, reliable keyboard. Life is much better. That underscores your point that the keyboard fiasco is real.

  23. Thanks for bringing attention to this. I’ve been waiting for a decent Mac laptop keyboard before I replace my old laptop. I may have to do what others are suggesting here and buy a windows machine. I’m really tired of waiting. It’s ridiculous.

  24. I had the same problem on my MacBook Pro 2018 with x, z, cmd, option. Took several attempts at pulling the keycaps and cleaning the cavity and cap. There was NO visible debris.
    I concluded in my case it was not the switch, but the too closer spacing of the key caps. Invisibl skin oils work themselves into the crevices.
    The key kept working, but the small tactic feedback was gone.
    It is a very poor design. Typing this on my MacBook Air mid 2011 (high end custom config and upgraded since then.) I much prefer its keyboard.

    I also use Windows for cross platform development, but would not trade. macOS has me stuck in the Apple camp. I also do not have time at work to spend hacking with hackintoshes.

  25. The keyboard on the most recent Mac laptops is a terrible. It is basically unusable. I use my Mac laptop docked and use a dasKeyboard or I would have to get something else. Its terrible because you have no other choice if you need to or want to use Apple’s operating system. And macOS seems to get less usable with every new version. Sad. They really ought to refocus macOS on the concept of being a workstation for professionals and license it to other hardware vendors. I’m sure they won’t do that, but it would be in the best interest of the Mac as a platform.

  26. I hate having to use my macbook pro out of the office because of how problematic the keyboard is, I’ve never had any other laptop with so many glitches. Slows down typing and just gets in the way

  27. Keep buying laptops with lousy keyboards and Apple will keep making laptops with lousy keyboards.

  28. Apple is more responsive in releasing new emojis than in fixing long-standing limitations and flaws in its hardware. I recently had to admit that I am no longer Apple’s target customer, and it saddened me to make my most recent laptop purchase a Windows machine. A decade ago, Windows users bought MacBook Pro machines to load Windows under BootCamp, but times have changed. Give it another year or two, and the differences between macOS and iOS may be negligible enough as to make it abundantly clear that Apple is now a lifestyle brand rather than the innovative creator of cutting-edge products that “just work.” Steve Jobs was far from perfect, but in retrospect it seems that Apple’s reputation for industry leading excellence has gone to the grave with him.

  29. Yes I agree this is a huge problem with MacBook Pro. It’s keyboard just jumps unexpectedly typing over existing words

  30. I’m still rocking maxed-out 2015 MBA 11″ and late 2011 MBP 17″, but it’s sad that whenever these stellar machines need to be replaced, Apple is offering nothing to replace them with. Currently the only MacBooks worth buying are used 2013-2015 MBAs and MBPs from eBay and non-retina MBA 13″ refurbished from Apple; these are old tech, but nearly as fast and much more flexible, reliable, upgradeable, and repairable than current models. Forgive me, but I resent Apple for (1) never really updating their MBA line with a better screen except belatedly nerfing it with no ports and a broken keyboard; (2) going all-in on meh USB-C while senselessly eliminating ports without providing any good mobile dock options; (3) pushing to the bitter end their horrendous ill-conceived 2016 MB updates that looked like overpriced gimmicky downgrades at the time, but have proven far worse than feared; and (4) sabotaging laptops for 3.5 years at the exact time when they needed their best game to compete against rapid phone/tablet advancements.

  31. Bought $3500 top of the line 2016 MacBook. Keyboard failed after 1 month. Apple took 6 weeks to repair. Keyboard failed again two months later. Switched to a Dell XPS 13. Never looked back. Really sad I spent $3500 on a laptop that lasted 3 months.

    Oh, and they keyboard sucked when ‘working properly’. Terrible travel, terrible feel, lots of missed keypresses. Don’t leave out people who’s keyboard isn’t failing, but the experience is awful because Apple decided 1 mm of width was worth ruining the awesome keyboards they already had on their 2013 MacBooks. What a waste.

  32. It’s anecdotal. It’s far from a random sample. It’s a too-small sample. Nothing — and I mean absolutely, positively NOT ONE THING can be concluded meaningfully from this.

    The fact that you do is a disservice.

    1. If all the MacBook owners at the company replied, both the ones with working and not working keyboard, then it’s not anecdotal at all. (IOW: no sampling bias.)

      It’s a very statistically significant. For a population of 1M, 47 samples are sufficient for a pretty low error margin. And we don’t even need a low error margin: it doesn’t matter whether 45% or 25% of the keyboards fail: it’s terrible either way!

      The only way it would be flawed is if there are environmental factors that change the failure rate at Basecamp (e.g. a very dusty office that never gets cleaned, only hiring employees who eating donuts with sesame seeds above their keyboard, …)

      I don’t think that very likely.

      Feel free to argue the other way, but basic statistic math is working against you.

  33. Another issue will be trying to sell my 2016 MBP. The price will be depressed. It feels like VW’s diesel problem before they were forced to do something. Of course nothing happens here.

  34. I love my MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015)and don’t need a new one. Apple has a new program where they will fix any issue, all the way up to replace all the parts that are bad for $599. I will tell you that I was traveling and my screen died and it was a board issue. It cost over $1,000 and a week to replace.

  35. I asked my company’s IT Manager about this and he said, “Have really only had a few that had to be brought into Apple so far.

    Fingers crossed, it just hasn’t been a big issue so far.

    Very possible that people using external keyboards here could be easing the stress on the new design.”

  36. This is the exact same reason that drove me to Linux after 30 years of Apple. (https://medium.com/@w0u7/an-apple-for-a-penguin-a44464a3306b). I used to buy at least one new Mac every year, but in the end I could no longer accept the premium price for sub-par build quality.

    I’m not saying Linux is the golden ticket, but I am very happy with my laptop which cost me nearly half the amount of a MacBook Pro, with the same specs. And best of all, it has an excellent keyboard.

  37. I’m the IT Director of a software dev company. I have around 100 15″ Touch Bar MBPs in service. I can honestly say over the last year I’ve had about a 20% failure rate on keyboards. Some we can fix with compressed air but this is usually only a temp fix. Some of our users say the canned air isn’t enough and use home garage compressors to spray out the keyboards. But like you said… many users haven’t really let me know until an article like this pops up. We also deploy an extended keyboard for every user so most just resign to using the external keyboard without ever letting me know.

  38. This issue was enough to send me away from getting a new Mac when my 2013 13″ MBP recently lost following a fight with some apple juice.

    I’ve gone with the Dell XPS13 running Ubuntu as a replacement, a decent amount of storage and the keyboard is okay.

  39. I have a 2013 Macbook Pro and it’s been brilliant but the battery is swelling and I need a larger screen so it’s time to look at a new computer soon. My only real upgrade path is a refurbished 2015 15″ MBP which was the last to have an excellent keyboard and all the different ports or a new Mac mini which can connect to my screen and keyboard but can’t be used on the road.

    A slew of new Windows laptops are imminent and they’ll have features like flippable touch/pen screens, OLED displays, upgradeable RAM and SSDs, good keyboards and replaceable batteries (not all of them will but enough).

    I do like MacOS but I tried Windows10 and it does pretty much everything I need it to and the majority of my apps work on it too.

    Oh and it will have the bonus of a decent discreet graphics chip (like an nVidia GTX1060) for gaming in the evenings!

  40. Apple has been making poor decisions since they put Timmy and Ivie up at the top. Form over function is all Ivie gets. He is a terrible engineer! Everyone wants their wired ports back, whether it is headphone jacks or usb ports. Given the ridiculous pricing, why should we have to put up with dongles, so Timmy can report to the board it ekked every last cent out of the remaining suckers? I have been an Apple customer since Apple II, but I am with the rest of you. I would have upgraded two years ago if they offered a product with a USEABLE design. Now with crappy keyboards that they refuse to admit to, I am out when my 4 year old machine dies as well unless Tim is canned or Ivie and they bring in some real engineers that know that musicians need more ports, and so do business travelers.

  41. I’ve owned tons of Mac over the years and still own 11″ Air, MBP15, 2 x Imac27s, 1 x Ipad pro, Iphone X, TV an HomePod. I’m an Apple fan

    My current Macbook pro 15″ made in 2017 but purchased on 2018 (probably the most underwhelming given its 2019) – it has I think the prev generation of keyboard. So far so good and no issues.

    But I use it with a Gustav(https://gustavconcept.com/)and separate apple BT keyboard mostly.

    Main problem is (the MBP15) it’s way too heavy – I regret buying a 15″ now would probably buy a new Air (but it wasn’t released yet).

    I’ve had an Air 11 (the smaller form factor) for probably 8years, that still works perfectly and no keyboard issues at all – and is light and small. It’s brilliant for most things.

    Way worse in my experience is the Ipad Pro keyboard – on my 3rd Apple keyboard/cover for that.

    Don’t get me started on the design fail of the stupid Mouse charging port on the rechargeable wireless mouse.

    Personally, I think Apple has lost the plot.

    They’re milking their key lines as long as they can. Sure great design is often evolution over revolution – but we’re not seeing a lot “Think Different” innovation. They need both in my books.

    The recent announcements of new Services – is just a monopolistic move to milk the customer base with me too services. I’m sure the user experience will be good. But there’s nothing mind blowing there – just vey disapointing…and boring.

    Tim is a great leader/manager/custodian of Apple – but not an inventor/innovator/challenger in the Steve Jobs mould.

    The next guys down – have been around a long time (including Johnny Ives) and its all got a bit boring – they need some new blood – a radical/revolutionary who going disintermediate current Apple products.

    Sure Steve certainly wasn’t perfect – but he was a great disruptor and followed through.

    Where is my Apple monitor to connect apple devices to (so I can rock a smaller/lighter MB or even ipad/iphone to drive it. Where is our Apple car/transportation solution? Why haven’t Apple disintermediated their ipad/macbook business into a single OS (I’m pretty sure they could).

    I think it’s obvious that the next step change is going to come from outside the monoliths. From someone new.

    Steve must be rolling in his grave.

  42. Knowing about the issues (and disliking apple keyboards even if they work) I bought a Mac Mini and a decent mechanical keyboard. I’ld rather deal with writing (not coding) on the iPad when on the go than suffer Macbook “keyboards”.

  43. Nice post. I already considering switching back to win since they don‘t support nvidia cards anymore. As a designer i wanted to digg deeper into 3D Modelling and Animation since AR and VR are somewhat around the corner. So all the artisit in this segment using windows machines. The coming mac pro was a big hope for me but i guess it will be overpriced and not what they suggest it might be. Apple will loose pro users because of bad and overpriced hardware.

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