Has Apple fixed its biggest blunder?

Apple's fascination with endlessly making devices thinner resulted in reliability problems, and ultimately having to backtrack.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

If you've been watching Apple for any length of time, you'll know that the company has an obsession with making products thinner and lighter. I'm not sure as to why this is -- maybe it was down to the late Steve Jobs, or maybe it was the weight of the now departed Chief Design Officer Sir Jony Ive.

But that drive to make things thinner led Apple to make a big blunder. I am, of course, referring to the famous, or should I say infamous, butterfly keyboard.

A lot has been written about the unreliability of the butterfly keyboard. Teardown experts iFixit have also been closely monitoring the situation.

Apple introduced the world to the butterfly keyboard back in March2015 during a MacBook refresh, and retweaked the design in October 2016. But reliability was such an issue that the company launched a service program to tackle the issue.

Apple has since started transitioning back to the scissor mechanism, first with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and now with the new MacBook Air.

Apple claimed there were all sorts of benefits to the butterfly keyboard mechanism over the older scissor mechanism. Here's Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller talking to CNET back in November 2019:

"A number of years ago we started a new keyboard technology with this butterfly keyboard and began it with MacBook. It had some things it did really well, like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more firm and flat under your finger -- some people really like that, but other people weren't really happy with that. We got sort of a mixed reaction. We had some quality issues we had to work on. Over the years we've been refining that keyboard design, and we're now on the third generation, and a lot of people are much happier with that as we've advanced and advanced it."

So, what was the reason for the butterfly mechanism?

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Well, if we look closely at the new MacBook Air, and compare it to the model it replaced, it becomes apparent.

The new MacBook Air is 1.61cm at the thickest point, compared to 1.31cm for the previous model. That's a 23 percent increase in thickness, which is quite a jump.

Noticeable? Yes.

A problem? No.

But Apple has

But if we dig deeper, it's clear that Apple has been working on making the scissor mechanism smaller, because if we look at key travel (how much the key moves when pressed) we can see an interesting progression. The older scissor mechanism has a key travel of 1.6mm, while the butterfly mechanism that replaced it slashed this down to only 0.55mm. Apple's new updated scissor mechanism reverses this trend, and has a key travel of 1mm.

It seems that it wasn't that the butterfly mechanism itself was flawed, but that the tiny amount of key travel didn't cope with dirt and dust making it into the keyboard. And try as Apple might to keep the dirt out, it just didn't work out.

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