back to article Forever mothballed: In memoriam Apple Butterfly Keyboard (2015-2020)

For a company defined by design and attention to detail, the Butterfly keyboard was a tremendous humiliation for Apple. Conceived in 2015, it replaced the previous scissor-switch mechanism for one with a smaller profile, allowing Cupertino to continue shrinking already-svelte laptops. The first MacBook to carry the Butterfly …

  1. Robert Grant

    This problem reached a head in 2017, when former Outline journalist Casey Johnston penned a blog post describing her woes with Apple's latest in keyboard tech. The post, titled "The New Macbook Keyboard is Ruining My Life", catalogued Johnston's repeated visits to the Genius Bar, and described an epidemic of bust laptops that, at that point, Apple had failed to properly acknowledge.

    If that's ruining your life, you have an incredible life.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Never underestimate the negative power of frustration. When you're forced to work with tools that have been specifically designed to keep you from working, you're life quickly becomes far from incredible.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        When you're forced to work with tools that have been specifically designed to keep you from working, you're life quickly becomes far from incredible.

        Ironically, that was the exact reason that drove people to MacOS from Windows. Stupid of Apple to waste that with a bad keyboard design.

    2. Snake Silver badge

      She's a journalist

      Seeing that her business is words, and the Butterfly keyboard fails at making those well, I'll accept her complaints at full face value.

  2. Kez

    "attention to detail"

    "For a company defined by design and attention to detail"

    Really? For me, at least in recent years, they have been defined by poor hardware design choices that emphasize form and disposability over function and longevity. Let's take the latest Macbook Air as just one (amongst many) example: Would a company that cares about the performance and life span of their products, and values the input of hardware engineers, design a laptop such that the exhaust fan is placed a good distance away from the hottest components, and with no direct link to any heatsinks? Early reports of high CPU temperatures, thermal throttling (and even some rumours that motherboard components are frying themselves) suggests not...

    1. Captain Scarlet

      Re: "attention to detail"

      Only recent?

      What about those god awful CRT's covered in the cheapest colourful plastic.

      Hated those stupid things.

    2. Kez

      Re: "attention to detail"

      I wanted to post this video about Apple's "think different" mindset with my original comment, but have only just found it. Enjoy!

    3. RM Myers

      Re: "attention to detail"

      "For a company which pretends to be defined by design and attention to detail". FTFY

  3. LeoP

    Still, at least you can now eat ...

    ... a cronut at your desk without worrying about subsequent trips to the Genius Bar.

    I always could. Since I need my notebook for work, not to show of wealth and/or moronity I didn't and wouldn't dream of buying such a device (and at such a price) for the privilege of running OSX "Vista" Catalina.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Still, at least you can now eat ...


      Oh, you must be self employed and only looking at this month's bankroll - my employer bought a laptop for me to use, and compared with the overall cost of employing someone... it's barely even a rounding error.

      For them, buying me a laptop which should last me many years makes sense; and for me it's sufficiently unix to just do my job, and sufficiently "just works" that I don't have to spend time fettling it (well, except for the AV software which we are required to have, that stumped me, IT, and the AV vendor for a good while) as I used to with linux workstations (I do miss ion3 as a window manager though).

      It's not a show of wealth, it's consumer electronics at a reasonable price for something that IT, and I, expect to last well. That's the BIG problem... these key switches didn't last well, they barely lasted.... and that's a major fail.

      The failure to admit there was a problem, or to replace at reasonable cost (initially should have been zero)... also a major fail. I can't recall seeing anywhere that they have reimbursed people who had paid for repairs before they publicly acknowledged the problem.

      Catalina "just works" for me. I haven't had any issues with it at all.

      Yes, 32 bit only software won't run - that was entirely expected, and had been advertised for a long while. I still run an 8 bit game on Catalina occasionally.

      To be honest the keyboard on the laptop sees relatively little use because I'm usually at a desk, and always drop my BT keyboard and trackpad in the bag as well as the laptop. So it's only ever used when I move to a sofa, or on the bus/plane.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        So, basically, you're defending a keyboard that you don't use.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          "So, basically, you're defending a keyboard that you don't use."

          I don't recall defending the keyboard at all:

          "That's the BIG problem... these key switches didn't last well, they barely lasted.... and that's a major fail.

          The failure to admit there was a problem, or to replace at reasonable cost (initially should have been zero)... also a major fail. I can't recall seeing anywhere that they have reimbursed people who had paid for repairs before they publicly acknowledged the problem."

          In fact I'd have to look carefully to see if any of my machines have the badly designed keys - I've never been affected by any issues with keys, despite the dust that floats around my workstation.

          I defending IT dept's buying laptops, and I defended Catalina, which dropped support for older software but that was well advertised.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            So, as long as a crappy feature is well advertised, that makes it okay?

            If they are moving to ARM, why would it matter anyway? Apple should just allow 32 bit Intel software to continue running on the Intel version of mac OS. There's a lot of 32 bit software that won't be updated, if you buy ARM hardware you know it won't work but otherwise it's just yet more forced obsolescence.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              the obsolescence is in the software that isn’t being recompiled, not in the OS that isn’t supporting/providing old libraries - it maybe you just prefer having a mega kernel that supports every bug it ever had...

              But yes - if you are going to drop support for something then telling everyone about for a couple of years is reasonable.

              Or maybe we should just stick to full sized AT keyboard connectors?

              1. Dan 55 Silver badge

                That would be a decision for the hardware manufacturers to build support for USB keyboards into their computers and for the customers to buy them (and they did, but it took a long time for PCs to drop the AT connector and you can still buy AT-USB adaptors). This is more like an OS upgrade for existing computers dropping support for the numberpad for no particular reason. It won't affect many people but it will affect others.

                I really see no reason to drop support for 32-bit Intel software if the OS is properly architectured and ARM support is around the corner anyway. The ARM version of the kernel would be a different OS build anyway with its own set of bugs.

                1. John Robson Silver badge

                  There is no hardware which isn’t being supported, it’s just that you need to compile software (hardly a crippling task) for a 64 bit environment.

      2. Snake Silver badge

        Re: Still, at least you can now eat ...

        The reason a company purchases MacBooks is because of residual value; if they lease or trade up often, the residual value can indeed lower costs for the upgrade.

        An IT department buying longer term purchases either ThinkPads or Dell Latitudes, because unlike a MacBook they can actually be both serviced and upgraded. And serviced or upgraded in-house to boot. A faulty out of warranty MacBook can become a very expense thing, while a faulty ThinkPad gets you on eBay for an easily affordable replacement SKU.

  4. firebits

    I think I’m the only one still happily using the 2015 MacBook having never ever had a keyboard problem and I’ve probably broke it now.

    1. schafdog

      You lucky ...

      2015 ? You lucky bastard ;-D

      I am still on the 2012, the first retina model.

      While I would like more SSD space, a 2-3 increase in computation power and working keyboard light, the old keyboard is still better that the new ones, IMHO.

      1. bpfh

        Re: You lucky ...

        I raise you a mid 2010 MacBook Pro.

        In its defence, from 2011 through to 2017, it was hardly used....

    2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      2015 13" Macbook here. Souped to 1TB of flash and with HDMI, USB-A, it's been my 60hr/week workhorse for 5 years and is still going strong. I can't see myself upgrading for some time to be honest, even now they've fixed the keyboards.

    3. Stumpy

      Mid 2015 MacBook Pro here (so the model just before the butterfly keyboards came in) ... still going strong, never had any issues with it (other than the battery recall from last year). Still snappy enough for me to do my work on - although I wouldn't want to use it for any serious gaming [I have a very beefy Windows rig for that].

      I reckon, barring catastrophic hardware failure, that I'll be using that laptop for at least another five years, and possibly longer.

    4. ThePhantom

      Nope. I have an Early 2015 MPB with 8GB and an upgraded 500GB SSD which has travelled with me to every continent except Antartica. It's the machine I use on my dining room table for my morning and evening writing and emails before I move to my Mac Pro for graphics work.

  5. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

    Elton John?

    More like Chicago...

    "Hold me now / it's hard for me to say I'm sorry / I just want you to stay..."

    (But Apple failed at the "I will make it up to you / I promise to" line that shortly follows.)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If Apple really wanted to fix this they'd offer us poor users with the "Ive got a horrible idea" keyboards an upgrade path. For a company literally sitting on BILLIONS in cash, buying back the reputational damage would barely hit the balance sheet.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ZX 81 keyboard

    So, if I reading this well (last MacBook from 2012), they put a ZX81 keyboard on Macs, except they had a tiny tiny key press movement which the 81 didn't have, only to end up a lot less reliable than the 81's and almost as uncomfortable ....

    Bravo, Apple. Not even able to put up a usable keyboard on 3 kUSD laptops ! We live incredible times.

  8. Richard Wharram

    I've still got the original

    2015 original MB12 is still one of my machines (not this, this one is Linux) and it's fine. I like it.

    I did have a problem with the down arrow sticking a couple of years ago but I ran a piece of paper under it and some gunk came out and it's been fine since.

    I love that machine. So thin and light and fun to use. The gripe I do have with it is that the battery life is now about 90 minutes.

    I have a 2020 Air with the new keyboard and whilst I admit it is a bit nicer I'm not greatly fussed about the difference in keyboard. I'm more concerned that the Air makes a fucking racket when given a moderate task for more than 30 seconds.

  9. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    I mean...

    There's a reason for this icon, innit?

  10. NeilJay

    Late to the party.

    Sometime in late 2020, I finally gave up on my Late 2015 12" Macbook. The spacebar had finally stopped working and I was pretty certain that Apple wouldn't be interested. What I didn't know was that my Macbook had the reviled 'butterfly' keyboard. Later, a friend sent me articles from The Register which led me to believe that the failure of the keyboard wasn't entirely down to my being ham-fisted. Unfortunately, Covid got in the way and it was only last week that I made my way to meet a Genius who told me that my MacBook was 'vintage', no longer supported, discontinued and 'out of time'. This experience, along with OS 'Big Sur' has terminally damaged my relationship with Apple, a relationship which went all the way back to 1984. It goes to show that you can fool some of the people for a very long time.

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