MacBook Butterfly Keyboard Class Action Suit Moves Forward

published by Chand Bellur
March 26, 2021 at 9:32 p.m.
  • Several MacBook models, including the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, produced between 2015 and 2019, implemented a novel butterfly keyboard mechanism to maintain a thinner profile.
  • Easily compromised by tiny dust particles, MacBooks with the butterfly keyboard mechanism experienced twice the failure rate of models with traditional designs.
  • Apple settled one lawsuit by extending affected MacBook keyboard warranties an additional three years.
  • A petition on Change.org demanding the recall of butterfly keyboard mechanism MacBooks garnered 34,000 signatures.
  • A class-action lawsuit seeking monetary compensation for its members was recently certified, allowing the case to proceed.

The MacBook’s Deeply Flawed Butterfly Keyboard Mechanism 

If you purchased a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air between 2015 and 2019, you might be frustrated with its keyboard. To make MacBooks thinner, Apple designed a new keyboard mechanism. Instead of using a traditional scissor-switch design, the company opted for a thinner butterfly switch. Unfortunately, the more delicate mechanism succumbs to dust.

Most people can probably figure out why the butterfly mechanism is failure-prone. A mere piece of dust, jammed into a smaller switch, causes it to fail. The same bit of dust, or even a larger crumb, just gets crushed in a scissor mechanism, as there’s more space and travel.

A tinier, thinner switch can get jammed more readily than a larger one. Ingressing dust particles seize the mechanism and hamper the electrical contact, causing repeated characters or complete failure.

To make matters worse, Apple’s marketing contends that the butterfly mechanism is four times more reliable than previous designs. The company went through three iterations of the technology before abandoning it for a “new” design — a return to the scissor mechanism.

Newer MacBooks are composed of assemblies. There’s no way to replace the keyboard alone. It’s part of a $700 pre-built component that includes everything in the MacBook except the screen and case. Before Apple settled the first lawsuit and extended the warranty, some MacBook owners repeatedly paid $700 to have this assembly replaced.

Adding insult to injury, the Apple Store put customers through purgatory to fix their notebook computers. The iPhone maker forced customers to repeatedly bring their Mac in, with Apple Geniuses using compressed air to clean out the keyboard. Audacious Apple Store employees recommended expensive external keyboards so Mac users could hobble together a clumsy computer system. Starting at around a thousand dollars for the most basic models, repeated keyboard failure proved frustrating to numerous dissatisfied Mac owners.

MacBook Butterfly Keyboard Lawsuit Gets Green Light

Apple hasn’t disclosed the number of MacBooks succumbing to keyboard failure. By some estimates, the butterfly keyboard mechanism failed twice as often as the scissor design. After settling one lawsuit by extending MacBook warranties for four years, the company faces yet another. Recently, a judge certified the case, allowing it to move forward.

The case filing documents Apple’s harsh treatment of customers. Some Mac owners spent upwards of $3000 on a MacBook Pro, only to buy a Windows PC to replace it. Apple refused to refund their money or solve the problem. They have an expensive yet unusable notebook computer with a gorgeous “aluminium” unibody case.

The following excerpt from the plaintiffs’ case demonstrates how poorly Apple treats its best customers:

“On April 1, 2017, Mr. Melkowski purchased a new 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar from Apple’s online store for $3,221.49. Mr. Melkowski purchased his MacBook in Washington.

Before purchasing his MacBook, Mr. Melkowski saw advertisements and marketing materials in which Apple touted the MacBook’s thinness and represented that it has a highly responsive butterfly keyboard. Mr. Melkowski reviewed the promotional material on Apple’s website about the MacBook, including Apple’s representation that the MacBook has a “more responsive keyboard”. Mr. Melkowski also watched Apple’s release event for the 2016 MacBook Pro, in which Apple announced that the laptop was the thinnest MacBook Pro ever made, and that it contained a reengineered second-generation butterfly mechanism keyboard that was “more responsive.” Immediately upon receiving his laptop, but before using it, Mr. Melkowski viewed the MacBook’s packaging and went through the computer’s initial setup process, in which Apple provided him with more information about the computer.

In August 2017, Mr. Melkowski’s MacBook keyboard failed. Numerous keys would stick and keystrokes would not register.

Mr. Melkowski took his MacBook to a Simply Mac store in Washington, where Apple certified technicans evaluated it. The technicians attempted to clean the keyboard by turning the laptop at an angle and tapping on the base to clear dust from the keyboard. They also used an air can to try to remove debris from under the keys.

These cleaning efforts did not fix the problem. The Simply Mac technicians contacted Apple to arrange for repair or replacement of Mr. Melkowski’s MacBook. Apple informed Simply Mac that because Hurricane Harvey had flooded Apple’s Houston repair facility, Apple could not repair or replace Mr. Melkowski’s MacBook for several months.

Mr. Melkowski could not wait that long for a working laptop, so he filed an insurance claim and traded in his MacBook for a new 2017 MacBook Pro. In conjunction with the claim, he paid a $250 deductible.

After approximately six months, the keyboard on Mr. Melkowski’s second MacBook failed. Similar to what happened with his first MacBook, the keys stuck and prevented him from typing.

On July 15, 2018, Mr. Melkowski took his second MacBook to Simply Mac to be repaired.

Simply Mac told him the repairs could take several weeks. Because Mr. Melkowski did not want to send away his laptop for several weeks for repairs that would not fix the keyboard, he declined the repair offer.

Mr. Melkowski still has his second MacBook. The keyboard still does not work properly.”

This is just one horror story presented in the plaintiffs’ case. It’s a bona fide Apple dystopia, where smooth marketing covers a brutal truth. The legal document features other examples of MacBook owners receiving poor support and no viable solution to their problems.

The class-action suit protects all affected Mac users, even though it’s registered in a handful of states. According to the Girard Sharp legal firm, which is handling the case:

“Purchasers from other states, though not included in the class certified for trial, have live claims against Apple that are preserved in Plaintiffs’ complaint brought on behalf of a proposed nationwide class.”

The trial has yet to take place, with a possible settlement. All affected Mac users will likely receive compensation beyond Apple’s extended warranty.

List of Affected Models

MacBooks manufactured between 2015 and 2019 harbor the defective butterfly keyboard mechanism. Apple undertook three revisions of this design, the final adding a membrane to protect its inner-workings. None of these designs proved reliable.

The following MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air models feature defective keyboards:

  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2019)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, 4 Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2018)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2018)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018, 4 Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2017)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2016)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2017, 4 Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2016, 4 Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2017, 2 Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13­-inch, 2016, 2 Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2019)
  • MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12-­inch, 2017)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12­-inch, Early 2016)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12-­inch, Early 2015)

Apple will repair these for up to four years after the purchase date. Be prepared to be without a computer for several days, possibly weeks. Unlike an auto dealership, Apple won’t give you a loaner. Visit Apple’s official Keyboard Service Program for MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro page for more information.

New MacBooks Have Better Keyboards

It took Apple four years to revert to the scissor design. The rebranded Magic Keyboard built into every new Mac is merely a reversion to the scissor mechanism. Buyers should beware that some stores and online retailers may be selling older Macs with afflicted keyboards. Refer to the list above to avoid purchasing a defective computer.

Why Apple Can Afford to Disrespect Mac Users

The Macintosh holds minimal market share. It always has. From its inception, it’s a computer for rebels and hipsters. It accumulated a few students, scientists, engineers, and business people along the way; however, the Mac has never been a mainstream computer and never will be.

Windows enjoys the lion’s share of the computer operating system market; however, Android is the most popular operating system globally. It shows that people are switching from desktop to mobile, and, there too, Apple is losing ground.

All of this means Mac users are unappreciated, even by Apple. Evidence presented in the case shows how poorly Apple treats Mac users. Many of them are still slavishly loyal to the company. For others, there’s no choice. If they’re developing an iOS or macOS app, they have to use a Mac. It’s possible to use a cloud-based Mac; however, even most software engineers are unaware of this possibility.

The iPhone’s success is to the detriment of the Mac. Apple reassigned some of the best Mac engineers, both in hardware and software, to work on the iPhone. It makes perfect sense to cannibalize the Mac; however, this left its loyalists with an inferior product. The Bob Mansfield era Mac motivated people like me to buy a Dan Riccio Mac. They’re completely different, designed with disparate motives. The Mac used to be about perfection. Now it’s just like any other computer, except when it comes to price.

My own experience with two modern and highly defective Macs had me switch to Windows and Android. The Apple Store also mistreated me, and when I filed a complaint with the California State Attorney General’s office, they misrepresented the facts.

I left my MacBook Pro at the Burlingame Apple Store because it’s not worth fixing, and it’s not worth keeping. Like many of the plaintiffs, I replaced it with a less expensive and less fragile Windows laptop. My 27″ iMac is having its Fusion drive replaced for the second time. Fortunately, it’s still under warranty. Unfortunately, it broke after six months, with minimal use.

The Mac used to be an excellent option for computer users. Since 2015, it has become a headache for consumers and Apple alike. Apple will likely give up on the Mac or sell off the brand, as IBM sold its ThinkPad business to Lenovo. The Cupertino tech giant is all about iPhones, iMessages, Billie Eilish, and all things mass media. The Mac is an oddball for the last few people who are still loyal to the brand. More importantly, it’s not profitable. Like the Boy Scouts, it too could die off from a rash of lawsuits.

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