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Apple Engineers Its Own Downfall With the Macbook Pro Keyboard

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Mockingbird    2,534


A titan of tech and industrial innovation has been laid low by a mere speck of dust. Last week, Apple quietly announced that they were extending the warranty on their flagship laptop’s keyboard to four years. As it turns out, the initial run of these keyboards, described by Jony Ive as thin, precise, and “sturdy,” has been magnificently prone to failure.


Apple has shipped two iterations of the butterfly mechanism. The 2.0 variant seems to handle dust a bit better, but had been on the market for a year before the volume of complaints reached a fever pitch. Anyone who has paid Apple to swap out their upper case in the last two years has most likely gotten the newer design. As far as we know, Apple’s new warranty replacements are unchanged—if they had improved, you’d think Apple would mention it—but we haven’t analyzed any units that have shipped in the last few weeks. (If we can get our hands on one, I’ll update this.)




No Margin for Error


The basic flaw is that these ultra-thin keys are easily paralyzed by particulate matter. Dust can block the keycap from pressing the switch, or disable the return mechanism. I’ll show you how in a minute.


The heroine at the center of this story is Casey Johnston, an editor for The Outline who has reported extensively on this issue since her computer came down with the affliction last year. Her research found that “while some keys can be very delicately removed, the spacebar breaks every single time anyone, including a professional, tries to remove it.”


So you can’t switch key caps. And it gets worse. The keyboard itself can’t simply be swapped out. You can’t even swap out the upper case containing the keyboard on its own. You also have to replace the glued-in battery, trackpad, and speakers at the same time. For Apple’s service team, the entire upper half of the laptop is a single component. That’s why Apple has been charging through the nose and taking forever on these repairs. And that’s why it’s such a big deal—for customers and for shareholders—that Apple is extending the warranty. It’s a damned expensive way to dust a laptop.


Let’s take a look and see what’s actually going on. We put a keycap under a microscope and injected a grain of sand so you can see how this happens. The grain is in the bottom right corner, and it’s completely blocking the key press action. It’s very challenging to remove it with compressed air.




The particle wedges underneath the butterfly lever, preventing it from depressing. With the space bar, there’s virtually no way to remove the key cap without destroying the key. And since the keyboard is part of the monolithic upper case, a single mote can render the computer useless.


Traditional key caps are more resilient to dust, and can be removed and individually repaired as necessary. But of course, they’re not 40% thinner.


Thin may be in, but it has tradeoffs. Ask any Touch Bar owner if they would trade a tenth of a millimeter for a more reliable keyboard. No one who has followed this Apple support document instructing them to shake their laptop at a 75 degree angle and spray their keyboard with air in a precise zig-zag pattern will quibble over a slightly thicker design.


This is design anorexia: making a product slimmer and slimmer at the cost of usefulness, functionality, serviceability, and the environment.



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Human.Online    8,164

Lol @ "it's own downfall"

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