Apple ditching butterfly keyboard, validating rumor of multiple MacBook's on the way

; Date: July 4, 2019

Tags: Apple

Apple has a long history of laptop design mistakes, for example the display cable that breaks necessitating an expensive repair job. The Butterfly keyboard was one of those mistakes, that Apple fans have long complained about. News is that Apple is introducing a new keyboard design, and clues point to a wildly different sort of keyboard involving flexible glass. Think Different!

A few days ago news arose that Apple had registered model numbers for new MacBook and MacBook Pro models: A2141, A2147, A2158, A2159, A2179, A2182, and A2251 ... see Does the seven new MacBook models mean the ARM MacBook is on the way?

As you can see from the title of that post, some in the tech press conflated that report with the long suggested switch to ARM-based Mac's that Apple wants to undertake. Who knows if that is true or not. What seems unlikely is for Apple to upgrade the top end MacBook Pro this year because Apple just issued an update to that model.

In any case news arose today reported on by (www.macrumors.com) MacRumors, 9to5Mac, (www.theverge.com) The Verge and others, that Ming-Chi Kuo is reporting that Apple is planning to ditch the Butterfly keyboard and switch to a "Scissor-Switch" keyboard.

Apple will start with the 2019 MacBook Air, and then in 2020 a new MacBook Pro, both featuring the new keyboard design:

The new scissor switch keyboard is a whole new design than anything previously seen in a MacBook, purportedly featuring glass fiber to reinforce the keys. Apple fans who have bemoaned the butterfly keyboard should be optimistic about a return to scissor switches.

Kuo says that Apple’s butterfly design was expensive to manufacture due to low yields. The new keyboard is still expected to cost more than an average laptop keyboard, but it should be cheaper than the butterfly components.

-- 9to5Mac

What isn't mentioned in that analysis is the rancor MacBook owners have over the butterfly keyboard design.

That keyboard is so bad that some use it as a talking point in recommending that we completely skip the newest MacBook and MacBook Pro models ... see Do not buy a MacBook Pro until watching this video

Reading from this, the keyboard on my 2012 MacBook Pro is a scissor-switch design, and I find it to be completely excellent. Why would Apple switch away from a design that works so well, and then stand by a design that doesn't work?

According to the MacRumors report, the butterfly keyboard was adopted because it is slimmer, and that the new scissor switch keyboard will be thicker. So... this issue is a negative consequence of Apple's quest to make thinner/lighter laptop computers.

Some are saying that Mac laptops are thin enough already, and that if the cost to have a keyboard with better key travel and more reliability is a few millimeters - that's a great tradeoff.

In Luke Miani's video about this (see below) we are reminded that in February a (www.laptopmag.com) patent from Apple was found discussing a glass keyboard. (Patent US20190033923)

The patent describes a glass surface where the glass can buckle. In the surface are areas for keys. And it includes pictures.

The pictures below demonstrate different aspects of the patented technology. Namely, some sort of flexible surface with additional layers that comprise keyboard components. There is a mechanism you could describe as a scissor switch, along with springs and other things to give the physical feel of a keyboard - that you're pushing into something, and that there is a "return" push from the keyboard.

The patent also mentions including a "second display" underneath the glass. Presumably so that one could implement non-US-English keyboards just by loading a configuration into the keyboard, rather than requiring the manufacturer develop alternate physical keyboards. Who knows if that would appear in any time this century, but it's an interesting idea.

Like, what if a laptop were two display units, with the computation and storage in one heavier unit, and the second being a detachable tablet... etc?

But that's a distraction. The other question is the timing of various MacBook and MacBook Pro updates. It's curious that Apple is starting with the MacBook Air. It's curious that Apple would release a 16" MacBook Pro (strongly rumored) this year, and then next year update it to this new keyboard. It's curious that the MacBook is not being updated with the new keyboard right away.

At the top of this I noted the new MacBook model numbers. Supposedly the filing of such model numbers comes within a few months of a new product release. Therefore Apple has 7 new MacBook and MacBook Pro models lined up for release Real Soon Now. Applying a new keyboard design would likely involve a new fleet of laptops, and for Apple that means at least these models:

  • MacBook
  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro 13"
  • MacBook Pro 15"
  • MacBook Pro 16" ??

Add in a couple variations of some of those, and you have 7 models possibly.

New MacBook keyboard redesign incoming! Let's talk about it

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.