Apple debuted its custom butterfly keyboard mechanism in the 2015 MacBook before expanding it to the MacBook Pro in 2016. At the time, the company claimed the butterfly switches were a revolution because they made keyboards so much thinner. However, MacBook users have had no end of problems with these computers, and analysts now predict Apple will begin phasing out the butterfly switch at the end of this year.
The butterfly mechanism is indeed much thinner than traditional scissor switches, but they’re also more prone to failure in the real world. No one uses their laptop exclusively in a sealed clean room, so dust and debris are sure to fall on the keyboard from time to time. With most keyboards, you can remove dust with compressed air, but Apple’s butterfly switches are so flat, there’s no way to get the junk out from under some of those keys. Just a little debris can cause the key to stop working, resulting in a costly and time-consuming repair.
Apple has tried several times to fix the butterfly switch with tweaks like the rubber membranes in the 2018 MacBook Pro. Yet, laptops were still being trashed by specs of dust. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says that a revised keyboard switch he didn’t expect to see until 2020 is now on target for a late 2019 release. According to Kuo, we’ll see the new switches for the first time on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is a new form factor for Apple. The company’s revised switches are much less custom than the butterfly mechanism. Apple will use a more traditional scissor-switch design, making its keyboards much more durable. The scissor mechanism will also feature greater travel, which should make typing more pleasant. One notable drawback is that the new keyboards are going to be a little thicker than current ones. Although, Kuo says the difference will be minor enough that most users won’t notice.
Apple isn’t just doing this in pursuit of a better typing experience. The financial and PR cost of butterfly switches has continued to build with each new design revision. Apple currently faces several lawsuits over the faulty hardware, and it has already agreed to repair all butterfly keyboard at no cost for up to four years. So, moving to a new design makes sense from a business perspective.
Kuo says the 16-inch laptop will be the only one to get the scissor-switch makeover in 2019, but 2020 versions of the 13.3-inch Pro, 15.6-inch Pro, and 13.3-inch Air will also get them. In the meantime, you might want to hold off on a new MacBook purchase.