Report: Butterfly MacBook Pro keyboards require more frequent, more expensive repairs

Enlarge / The keyboard of the 2016 MacBook Pro Touch Bar.

An article by AppleInsider stoked consumer frustration over Apple's keyboards. In this document, AppleInsider compared a limited set of warranty events from participating Apple Genius Bars and third-party repair shops. The site determined that in this data, the keyboard of the MacBook Pro 2016 accounted for twice the percentage of all the first year warranty events of this machine on the market, as did its 2014 predecessors and 2015.

These keyboards already have a lot of detractors. They have a very short stroke, which serves two functions: freeing up a bit of space in the machine for the other components (every nanometer counts), and greatly speeding up typing as it is not necessary to save as many keys. I like these keyboards, but a lot of other people think that they are terrible to type.

The AppleInsider report has led Apple customers to express their frustration in the forums and on Reddit. Detractors even began a petition asking Apple to recall all MacBook Pros from 2016 and later and replace their keyboards with a new design less prone to failure. This is not likely to happen – partly because it is not practical and partly because the data is not as conclusive as it may seem.

The article claims that "the 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard fails twice as often in the first year of use as the 2014 or 2015 MacBook Pro models," but that's not exactly what show the data. This is because the conclusion "twice as often" is based on the percentage of all repairs followed that the keyboard constituted, as noted Daring Fireball . The 2016 MacBook Pro had fewer warranty events, while the absolute number of events related to the keyboard did not double, the percentage of all repairs that were related to the keyboard did. In addition, the slightly revised keyboard of the 2017 model has seen significant improvements on this front, so as usual, it is the first adopter who has the most problems.

The numbers

In AppleInsider's data, the 2014 MacBook Pro (including the 13-inch and 15-inch models) "saw 2,120 service events the first year" it was on the market. 2015 MacBook Pro saw 1,904 service events. The 2016 MacBook Pro saw only 1,402. AppleInsider found 165 keyboard-related incidents (excluding those related to the Touch Bar) in its data for the first year of the 2016 MacBook Pro in the market. There were 114 in 2015 and 118 in 2014 – two previous years that used the old chiclet keyboard. This is an increase of about 45% and 40%, respectively, but not double.

There is another ride, however: make visits. Of the 114 repairs related to the 2015 model's keypad in the data set, six are returned for a second repair for the keypad, and none have occurred for a third party. In 2015, there were eight out of 118 for a second repair, and again no third repair. In contrast, 51 out of 161 customers who initially requested repairs for their 2016 MacBook Pro keyboards are returned for a second round of repairs, and of these, 10 returned for the third round. This is still not twice as much repairs as with the previous models, but it is close.

Why did people come back for another ride? Was it because the keyboards failed again or because they were badly repaired to start? We do not know, so we have as many questions as we have answers after seeing these data.

AppleInsider found that a slight redesign of the keyboard that was included in the 2017 models (and which is now installed in the 2016 models during their maintenance) seems to result in repair numbers getting closer to the numbers. 2015 and 2014, although a full year of data for this model is not yet available.

Data suggests that newer MacBook Pro keyboards need a little more repair. And they are much more difficult and expensive to repair than previous models. This creates a dilemma for consumers.

The high cost of repair

My own 15-inch MacBook Pro 15-inch keyboard failed two months ago. The "Z" key has stopped working. I took the computer to an Apple Store, and Apple determined that a kind of dust or similar material had entered the keyboard and caused a problem. Apple has replaced it with the updated keyboard found in the 2016 MacBook Pro. My computer was working again the next day, and it cost me nothing because I had AppleCare. If I had not done so, the repair would have cost me over $ 700 according to the repair sheet that the company gave me when it returned my computer.

That's because Apple designed the MacBook Pro so that fixing a single key requires the replacement of the entire keyboard, as well as a part of the metal case and other components. This is the real consumer dilemma with MacBook Pro keyboards, not their failure rate.

The AppleInsider report on the cost of repair is just about money with my experience:

The keyboard is not replaceable by itself. Break a key switch, and you must replace the entire set, consisting of the keyboard, the battery and the upper metal surrounding the Thunderbolt keyboard and ports 3.

We have seen out-of-warranty prices with labor and parts over $ 700 for work, and this is not an easy repair, requiring complete disassembly of the machine. This same repair is $ 400 on the MacBook Pro 2014 and 2015, cheaper but still a lot of money.

Making these types of service sacrifices allows Apple to produce striking designs, and that frees up space for other features, better heat management, and more. But for customers who do not buy AppleCare, these benefits can be very expensive when the computer components go down. The default one-year warranty is simply not sufficient – and in many areas, AppleCare is not available at all, or it is, but no Apple Store has Is close enough to make this service convenient.

That leaves a lot of customers hanging. And this is no longer just Apple; Other laptops, like Microsoft Surface Pro, are just as difficult to maintain. This is not great for tech consumers as the purchase of an expensive service plan is the only way to have peace of mind when doing business. purchase of a $ 2,500 device.

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