/ tech

Apple Announces Keyboard Service

I've been using a Macbook Pro 15" from 2016 for about two years now. I am pretty sure that all my keys work. I've certainly read about a lot of people who have had problems with the keyboard on these models, and today Apple announced a service program Here's the thing about this keyboard. Even with one that I'm pretty sure works correctly, the key feel and typing isn't what people are used to. I won't say it's bad, but it is different. Personally there are some elements I like about it but keyboards for people who type for a living are all about predictability and function.

I have absolutely noticed an uptick in typos in my own work. Missing letters, out of order letters. Places where I think I've struck a key, but in fact have just touched it and not triggered the character press. It's never a stuck key; if I went back to the same key and pressed it again it always triggers. I think something about this keyboard makes it feel inconsistent, like the key pressure to type is just a tiny bit harder than I'm used to, coupled with the short travel distance, I often feel like I'm touching a key but not pressing it. Maybe it's just me, but I suspect a lot of people's complaints about this keyboard are the computer equivalent of unintended acceleration due to pedal misapplication.

That doesn't mean user error, in most cases we are talking about effectively a design error, or weakness. The more unpredictable it feels, the more people start to notice those typos and the degradation of their typing. I think this could also explain Apple's uncharacteristic silence and ignoring of this issue despite all the press.

I've worked in hardware, and it's actually very clear when defect rates from the field are out of line with expectations. At this scale, very small percentages are quite large volumes of users. If there was a physical defect in the keyboard that was taking failure rates up to say 5%, Apple would almost certainly have caught that very quickly following the launch of the design as people returned devices. Instead I bet that what they are seeing is large volumes of people bringing their devices to stores complaining that the keyboard is fussy. When they take it in the back room they find that there is nothing wrong with the keyboard, physically at least. All keys work, diagnostics pass. There is obviously some percentage that is actually broken, e.g. you press a key firmly and singly and it doesn't register. I'm betting that defect number is higher that previous generations. Occasionally they find some crumbs or dust in the works, and this design is less resiliant than in the past. I also think that a lot of people, like me, just find that the keyboard is not as reliable to type on; but your friendly genius can't fix it because it's working, it just doesn't work well.