You press a key on your MacBook and nothing happens. You press another key and it enters that letter twice. A third key feel like it’s sticking. You’re not alone, as this is a common problem with a particular kind of Apple keyboard. If you have friends who bought a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro in the past year or two, they might not be able to sympathise with your woes. And even though it doesn’t make headlines as much these days — Apple largely fixed the problem and moved on — many of us haven’t yet gotten past it.
What’s the problem with Apple’s butterfly keyboard?
No keyboard is perfect, but Apple’s butterfly keyboards are especially imperfect. Apple began producing these keyboards in 2015 with the revamped “MacBook,” which the company touted for its thinness and portability. Part of that thinness came from the new keyboards, which were designed with a “butterfly” mechanism that allowed for significantly reduced keyboard travel. That meant a smaller form factor, but a typing experience that wasn’t for everyone (personally, I’ve always enjoyed typing on mine, but it’s a polarising subject).
Still, you can get used to anything. If the only issue with these keyboards was their lack of travel, the story would likely end here. But the new butterfly design was fundamentally flawed and allowed dust and dirt to get underneath the switches, causing a frustrating “sticky” feeling, in addition to causing typing errors. Some keys, you type and nothing happens; others, you type double letters. You caan imaagine how aannoying thaat could be.
With later butterfly keyboards, Apple did try putting a band-aid over the problem by adding a membrane on top of the switches, in an attempt to stop debris from getting in. While the new design helped, it couldn’t stop the inevitable, as iFixit discovered in their testing. These keyboards are unintentionally designed to fail.
How do I know if I have a butterfly keyboard?
Those in the know can instantly recognise a butterfly keyboard, but it’s also easy to overlook. There are different types of butterfly keyboards, and it’s not like Apple’s updated MacBook keyboard — dubbed the “Magic Keyboard” — has a ton of key travel to it. You wouldn’t be blamed for not being able to tell which version you have.
The best way is to check your laptop model. To do that, click the Apple in the top-right corner of your screen, then choose “About This Mac.” If your MacBook’s model name matches any of the following, you’ve got yourself a butterfly keyboard:
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2015)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2016)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, 2017)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2019)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2016)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2017)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)
How can I fix my keyboard?
Before we go any further, the number one thing you should do is recall when your laptop was purchased from Apple. Was it less than four years ago? Then congratulations: Your keyboard can be fixed free of charge.
About the butterfly keyboard repair program
Because of the many, many complaints from butterfly keyboard victims (and an impending lawsuit claiming Apple knowingly sold faulty keyboards), Apple implemented a repair program; so long as your MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro with a butterfly keyboard was purchased less than four years ago, Apple will cover the costs of repair.
While that’s certainly good news — and a course of action you should absolutely take if available to you — it’s not all peachy. You’re still getting the same faulty keyboard, after all, so there’s no guarantee that it won’t fail on you down the road.
It really is the same keyboard, by the way. If your computer didn’t come with the slightly better membrane keyboard, you won’t get one in your repair. And while the program does last longer than Apple’s three-year AppleCare+ coverage, once you’re outside that four-year window, you’re on the hook for any charges related to fixing your keyboard.
What if I don’t qualify for the butterfly keyboard repair program?
For the rest of us whose butterfly keyboards are older than four years, we have a slew of “do-it-yourself” options. You could go get your keyboard replaced, but that can be a costly affair. Rossman Repair Group, for example, quotes this repair at $470, and warns you not to ask them to “fix this lemon.” Instead, you might want to consider some workarounds the Apple community has tried for fixing these keys.
One popular option is the condensed air trick: Grab a can of condensed air, then hold your MacBook up at a 75˚ angle (that’s Apple’s very specific advice, by the way). Then spray the condensed air left to right over the whole keyboard, or just over the keys that are giving you trouble. Rotate the computer to its right side and repeat, then rotate it one more time to its left side and repeat.
You can open up the keys yourself, but that’s an extremely risky manoeuvre, as the keys need to be removed both carefully and specifically based on their unique latch designs, and you can risk breaking either the keys or the components underneath. If you try to remove the space bar the same way you remove the “G” key, for example, you might end up breaking it.
How to get keep a keyboard from double-pressing letters
If you’re not comfortable going with the hardware route, you might want to try a software hack instead. Our very own Pranay Parab was able to stop his space bar from the dreaded double-press by setting a text replacement to change a double-space to a single-space.
There are downloads to help as well. Consider Unshaky, for example: The program analyses your typing and blocks a repeated keystroke if it occurs too quickly, which shouldn’t affect those times you mean to press a key twice.
Of course, do your best to keep debris away from your laptop. Clean up as much dust in your work environment as possible, don’t eat by your keyboard, and, above all, try to brush away those thoughts to just give up and buy a computer with a keyboard that isn’t doomed to fail.