Apple has updated The 13-inch workhorse MacBook Pro offers all the iterative improvements and improvements you’d expect from a surprising laptop unveiling on Monday morning. However, the ultimate meaning of the announcement lies less in what the new laptop adds than in what it pulls: Apple has finally given up its uncomfortable, annoying, extremely fragile butterfly keyboard.
The butterfly keyboard was a marquee of Apple’s innovative, expensive 2015 MacBook and a game of chance from the start. Most consumer keys use a conventional “scissor switch” mechanism. In this system, two intersecting pieces of plastic sit under each key and over a membrane; When you push down, they collapse like a beach chair and register your stroke. Scissor switches have become the standard, mainly because they are quieter and have a lower profile than their cousins with clicking mechanical keyboards.
But five years ago, Apple asked in the space-saving ethos that seemed to inform every product of the late Ive era: What if the buttons were even lower? The butterfly keyboard was the answer. In fact, it was 40 percent thinner, a haircut achieved by swapping in a mechanism that was pressed right in the middle. The plastic supports fluttered like wings every time a button was pressed.
It received harsh reviews from the start. “I immediately hated using the keys,”
And yet the butterfly keyboard persisted and eventually found its way into most of Apple’s ever-evolving laptops. However, it soon turned out that carpal problems were the least of the problems. As highlighted by journalists like Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern, the keyboard was prone to breakage. Bad. Repeated. It turned out that the butterfly mechanism, while saving space, also acts as a kind of cockroach motel for the debris that always slips past the keys: once dust or crumbs or whatever came in, it couldn’t get out what makes it impossible to press the affected buttons. That was crazy. By 2018, the failures had triggered three separate class actions.
There was also a rare, if tacit, Apple admission that it had been screwed up. In June 2018, Cupertino launched a free keyboard repair program for nine MacBooks and MacBook Pros models that is valid four years after the date of purchase. A month later, it introduced a subtle revision of its problematic keyboard into a new MacBook Pro and added a thin layer of silicone over the butterfly mechanism to keep dirt out in the first place. It helped! But clearly not enough. Last November, Apple introduced its so-called Magic Keyboard in its 16-inch MacBook Pro, moved away from the butterfly and hugged the scissor switches again. A new MacBook Air followed this spring. And now, after a few months as a loner, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has also jumped the ship.
The keyboard is the most important upgrade, but not the only bump. The new MBP receives a processor upgrade to 10th generation Intel Core and a corresponding graphics boost. It doubles the standard memory of the previous model to a 256 gigabyte solid-state drive (up to 4 terabytes) and reaches 32 GB RAM for the first time. The touch bar remains, but there is at least one physical escape button. And it retains the same selection of USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports as the previous model. If there are disappointments here, it’s the webcam that still has a medium resolution of 720p. In zoom times, that’s just not good enough.