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Jason Koebler, Motherboard:

The new MacBook Pros do have updated keyboards, but they don’t have a radically different design, indicating that Apple is still chasing thinness over repairability and upgradeability.

Whether the new, “quieter” keyboard can protect itself from dust and crumbs is far more important than the other details—faster processor, more RAM, etc—and it’s a question we won’t know the answer to for several months, until these things get heavy use by millions of people.

Surely the new MacBook Pro keyboards will be better. But with such a costly design flaw in the previous generation, you’d hope to see a more significant redesign toward repairability and sustainability. Early reports from journalists who have used it say that hasn’t happened.

After announcing the keyboard replacement program, I asked Apple what was happening to the computers that were returned as part of the program. A spokesperson confirmed that they are being recycled, not refurbished. This isn’t a desirable outcome, because, generally, recycled e-waste is shredded rather than reused. In fact, Apple has contracts with third-party recyclers that require them to shred MacBooks and iPhones.

I asked Apple a series of questions about its keyboards. First, a spokesperson sent me this link: “Here’s some public info on recycling and what Daisy can do (our newest disassembly robot),” the spokesperson said. Daisy and its earlier robot, Liam, disassemble iPhones only, as that link shows. The spokesperson confirmed that Apple does not use disassembly robots on MacBooks or MacBook Pros. A separate spokesperson would not answer a question about whether Apple is doing the recycling itself or is using third-party recyclers, nor would they give details about what the recycling process entails.

Dieter Bohn from The Verge:

We got only minutes (and no more) to interact with the new hardware. So at best, I can tell you that the keyboard does seem quite a bit less clacky than current MacBooks, though key travel is the same.

That’s all for the good, but it’s not what people are worried about. Instead, it’s just hard to trust a keyboard after so many reports that it can be rendered inoperable by a grain of sand and that is incredibly difficult and expensive to repair or replace. This new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve those issues, Apple says. In fact, company representatives strenuously insisted that the keyboard issues have only affected a tiny, tiny fraction of its user base. (There’s now a four-year repair program for the keyboard in case it fails.)

When we asked Apple representatives at the event exactly how the keyboard was changed to make it quieter, they declined to specify.

Sam Lionheart (what an awesome name) from iFixit:

Apple has cocooned their butterfly switches in a thin, silicone barrier.

This flexible enclosure is quite obviously an ingress-proofing measure to cover up the mechanism from the daily onslaught of microscopic dust. Not—to our eyes—a silencing measure. In fact, Apple has a patent for this exact tech designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”

Apple is in the middle of several class-action lawsuits for the failure of their keyboards, so of course they can’t just come out and say, “Hey, we fixed it!” That says there was a problem to begin with. But you’ve heard that clever analysis from John Gruber already. I’m just here to posit: the advertised boost in quietude is a side-effect of this rubbery membrane. The quiet angle is, quite literally, a cover up.

Tune in next week as we put this membrane through its dust-proofing paces, tear down the rest of the device, and speculate whether this really is a feature—or a secret bug fix impacting millions of consumers.

Evidence for iFixit’s supposition, reported by Joe Rossignol of MacRumors:

The keyboard has a membrane under the keycaps to prevent debris from entering the butterfly mechanism. The procedure for the space bar replacement has also changed from the previous model. Repair documentation and service videos will be available when keycap parts begin shipping.

Caution: The keyboard has a membrane under the keycaps to prevent debris from entering the butterfly mechanism. Be careful not to tear the membrane. A torn membrane will result in a top case replacement.

iFixit has confirmed that this fix appears to be an improvement:

We pumped this keyboard full of particulates to test our ingress-proofing theory. We started with a fine, powdered paint additive to add a bit of color and enable finer tracking (thanks for the tip, Dan!). Lo and behold, the dust is safely sequestered at the edges of the membrane, leaving the mechanism fairly sheltered. The holes in the membrane allow the keycap clips to pass through, but are covered by the cap itself, blocking dust ingress. The previous-gen butterfly keys are far less protected, and are almost immediately flooded with our glowing granules.

But there are limits:

On the 2018 keyboard, with the addition of more particulate and some aggressive typing, the dust eventually penetrates under the sheltered clips, and gets on top of the switch—so the ingress-proofing isn’t foolproof just yet. Time will tell how long the barrier will hold up. Following the Mythbusters method of testing, we pushed the keyboard to failure with the higher-grit particulate we used last time: sand. And just like last time, a few poorly placed particles bring the mighty butterfly down to earth, never to click again.

However, the keys appear to have been redesigned, so at least they’re easier to remove:

We kept feeling like the caps were easier to remove and harder to ruin, and it turns out that they have been very slightly redesigned. The new keycaps measure in at around 1.25 mm in thickness, compared to the 1.5 mm thick keys in the 2017 model. Presumably this gives the keys room to travel, despite the addition of the membrane—however, it also provides easier access to pry the caps off. Casey Johnston will be gratified to know that the spacebar key has most definitely been redesigned. It may not look much different, but the keycap separates readily from the butterfly mechanism, instead of ripping it out wholesale and damaging it in the process. Apple is rumored to be providing key cap replacements, so it seems like they’re confident in this thinner, readily removable design.

Great reporting.

Paul Ciano

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