The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

Summary: The thing that bothers me most about the new MacBook Air is its lack of backlit keyboard. I knew that I'd become dependent on the keyboard backlight on my MBP, but I didn't realize exactly how dependent.


The thing that bothers me most these days about my MacBook Air is its lack of backlit keyboard. I knew that I'd become dependent on the keyboard backlight on my MacBook Pro -- but I didn't realize exactly how dependent. As it turns out, my typing speed drops substantially on the new MacBook Air In low light.

While checking out some of the various keyboard stickers around the intertubes -- my favorite is the Space Invaders theme (Etsy also has a bunch) -- I got an idea.

Someone should make white stickers with black letters on them specifically for the Mac Book Air. This higher contrast color combination would be easier to read in low light and I'm sure that they'd sell in droves. It would be even better if the decals were made from glow-in-the-dark vinyl. They'll charge by day and glow by night. Boom, killer business idea.

(And keyboard skinners: let's not for forget that the 2010 MacBook Air keyboard has compact F-key and space bar rows.)

The worst part about the backlight's omission is that the original MacBook Air (circa 2008) had a keyboard backlight. Obviously, there's no technical reason that it couldn't be done, so why did Apple drop it from the 2010 MBA?

It can't be a price issue. How much does a keyboard backlight LED cost in Apple quantities? A dollar? You can't make the case for battery life either, because it's easily turned off in System Preferences.

So why did Apple really drop the keyboard backlight in the new MBA? Planned obsolescence, my friend. How much do you want to bet that the 2011 model has a keyboard backlight?

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • Backlight Omission was intentional

    I agree with Jason, there is absolutely no reasonable explanation why Apple left out the backlight keyboard on the new MBA other than having it be an incentive to buy the next generation MBA with a backlight KB. Same way is rumored that the next gen iPad will have cameras.
    • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

      battery life and cost? those are big reasons. i rarely use it. only less than 5 percent of macbook users i know use the backlight on purpose, half of my friends turn it off.
      sense police
      • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

        @sense police
      • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

        @sense police

        The cost is relatively nominal in the grand scheme of things and let the user decide on battery life. I wish my MacBook that I use for work had a backlit keyboad as I have been known to use it in network closets and other areas of poor lighting. You're comment is just like that of many that seem because it is good for you and half your friends that it is good for everybody.
    • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

      [i]Same way is rumored that the next gen iPad will have cameras.[/i]

      You put cameras in iPads (without having an option not to), then you can kiss many enterprise environments bye-bye.
      search & destroy
    • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight


      I cannot speculate as to why the backlight was left off, you maybe right. I know that I use the backlight at least 50% of the time on my MacBook Pro. I have a Dell Latitude D600 for work, and it does not have a backlight. It makes it very difficult to work in the evening in low light environments, which I do daily. I am glad to see that our PC friends are waking up and putting backlights on their computers too. I had read the keyboard backlights was the top choice in the Best Buy customer survey of the most demanded features for their own in house "Custom Models".
      • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

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  • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

    The lack of a lighted keyboard implies planned MBA product obsolesces? Your conjecture that the next MBA product revision will incorporate a lighted keyboard may indeed come to pass. However, that doesn't prove your theory of "planned obsolesces" since the essential features and computational abilities of this current MBA would not be diminished or increased with the inclusion of a lighted keyboard. If there is no essential difference, obsolesces does not take place.
    • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

      @kenosha7777 Thank you. I was going to say everything you did, almost to the word, with emphasis on the fact that, should one appear in the next refresh, such planned obsolescence would not be proven.
  • Instead of guessing at how much a backlit keyboard

    might cost, you could actually do some research and find out. My guess is, it's a bit more than $1 in volume, or you'd be seeing it in all bargain basement PC notebooks.
  • Backlight Omission - It's called &quot;Cutting-Corner&quot;

    It's all about getting as much as profit margin as possible. I mean do you seriously think that iPhone "Bumper" case actually cost anything close to $29 to make?
    • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

      I bought one of the first MacBook Air, a case a love at first sight. I disagreed with all the critics about lack of a second usb bus or disk reader. I bought the external drive and used it about 4 times in 3 years. Steve was right, CDs and DVD'S are dead are far as storage when you can buy a 1 TB external hard disk for $59.00. The size of the hard disk doesn't matter anymore when you can buy a tiny portable 750GB hard drive for $59. To me, it was the travel machine of the future, as a second computer. Only problem, the keyboard lighting never worked properly, and was erratic at best. Apple never fixed the problem, I don't think they ever figured out what the problems, and I think that is why they didn't include it in the new Airs. Plus may be also to cut costs. Anyhow, there was a very simple solution: install LabTick, that puts a little slider in the title bar that lets you turn the keyboard lights on or of as you please and adjust the level. Now, why didn't Apple buy LabTick and made it standard on the new Airs? I agree that without the lit keyboard, I couldn't use my Air in low light. Come on Steve, let's light up the keyboard on the next generation Air, and I will truly be the perfect laptop! It's small, light, beautiful, fast, the screen is beautiful. I love my Air, and will buy another when it dies. By then, it will be perfect!
  • Planned obsolescence?

    That's a mighty big leap you've made.
  • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

    I use it all the time. Love the backlit keyboard
  • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

    I personally don't care whether the keyboard has backlighting or not. My big gripe with these laptops and most others is the fact that they have black keys with white lettering, which makes the letters invisible to us older folks in dim lighting. I have the same complaint with lots of consumer electronics, such as my stereo receiver and lots of hand-held remote control devices. I'm sure that lots of industrial designers believe that the black buttons are prettier and more stylish, but to my way of thinking, function is far more important than cosmetic appeal.
    • Everyone is different

      I find the white lettering on black keys to be much easier to see than the black letters on silver keys (which came just before the current scheme). Apple's white keyboards with black lettering (previous MacBook, iBook) were no easier to see than the white on black, at least for me.

      The backlighting, even at its lowest level solves the problem better than any other solution I have ever found. Except that it doesn't really work in low light if the key is primarily white. No light - yes it works to backlight white keys, low light - not so much. My next laptop (be it Apple, Dell, or anyone else) will have a backlit keyboard. I was hoping to get an Air next, but if it's a choice of backlight or no backlight, I will pass the Air by. If Apple drops backlighting from all their laptops before I buy again, then I'll buy elsewhere. When I first used them I thought backlit keys were neat. Now they are a must have feature.
  • What do you expect for the price from Apple?

    Like anybody expects much for their money from Apple besides a nice loking thin computer. Get real Apple fans, wake up and realize Apple only cares about their profit margins!
    • AS opposed to Dell? HP?


      Show me the successful company that cares more about me than about their profit. A year later I will show you a bankrupt company.
      • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight


        It is possible to do both. Apple does not have a history of listening to it's potential customers and offering options that are requested. Of course that is true of many companies but occasionally you can tell the companies that take their customer feedback seriously and see the results in the service and products they provide.

        Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs has shown nothing but having the attitude of "My Way of the Highway" which should be quite evident if you have ever seen Steve at one of his unveilings or press announcements. Also his history of insulting competing companies in a spoiled child like manner is pretty obvious. Their history shows that they will release device like the iPad without features that a similar device (iPhone, iPod touch) already have and then release a new one with those features that have been used and requested for years less than a year later in some cases. People buy into it because it is felt that if Apple makes it and it is pretty it must be Awesome and the industry unjustifiably uses Apple as the comparing standard in many cases.
      • RE: The MacBook Air's biggest omission: keyboard backlight

        I'm a Mac user from back in '84, and a former Apple employee. I agree with everything you say except that <b>no</b> company puts <b>my</b> desires above it's profit. None. Many companies put a higher level of importance on my desires than Apple does, which is why I've also purchased from Dell, HP, and others over the years.

        Steve is an ego-maniacal a$$h013, that's also quite true. But that's hardly unique. Michael Dell famously advised Steve to shut down Apple and give the money to the stockholders. I have been personally insulted, harangued, and over all abused by dozens of people over decades because the Mac was the "wrong choice" and I "should know better" and I "have to switch to Windows or else prove my stupidity" so you can save me the pious pronouncements of attitude as argument against a product line. Believe me, there are plenty of haters and jerks in all camps.

        The bottom line is that when Apple offers a product that does what I want for a price I am willing to pay, I sometimes buy it. I do the same with Dell, HP, Acer, whomever. If you don't like the options, then give your business to someone else, but don't expect a company to make a product according to your vision, just because you want it a certain way. They are out to produce a product on a pre-defined life cycle in order to maximize their profits. That's what successful companies do.