Recent models of the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and the 2018 MacBook Air - have been plagued with keyboard issues since 2015 (MacBook) and 2016 (MacBook Pro). While the main complaint about the Mac laptops relates to the keyboard, there are also other issues which we will look at below.
The most publicised problem is an issue where the keyboard stops working on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, and more recently the MacBook Air. In fact this issue is so widespread that a petition calling for Apple to replace the keyboard in "every MacBook Pro since late 2016" has been signed by more than 31,655 people (you can sign here) and three class action lawsuits (details below) have been filed against the company over the keyboard failings.
At the end of June 2018 Apple admitted that there was a problem with the keyboard design on certain MacBook and MacBook Pro models and offered free repairs to customers who had been affected.
The keyboard design on the MacBook Pro introduced in July 2018 (2018 13in MacBook Pro review) seemed to be designed to go some way to allieviate this problem. When iFixIt did their teardown of the 2018 MacBook Pro they noticed that Apple has cocooned the butterfly switches in a thin, silicone barrier, which iFixIt believe is intended to prevent the dust and crumbs from getting stuck.
In fact, the new design appears to apply tech from an Apple patent application published in March - that patent was described as a "contaminant ingress prevention and/or alleviation [mechanism].” Suggesting that the design was invented for the purpose of avoiding the problems people were facing with the older keyboard design.
Officially, Apple maintained that the 2018 keyboard re-design was purely to quieten the keys, but unofficially it looked like this new design should help avoid the problems that have plagued the past few generations of keyboards with the ‘butterfly’ design.
However, these measures were not enough to stop the problem from occusing, with complaints appearing in forums and websites claiming that even the third generation butterfly keyboard is afflicted by the issue.
This third generation keyboard is also used in the 2018 MacBook Air - and reports have also appeared that suggest this Mac shares the same keyboard problems.
Apple has admitted as much when it announced the new 2019 MacBook Pro. The company revealed that the new MacBook Pro models introduced in May 2019 feature changes to the butterfly keyboard mechanism that should help prevent the problems and it also extended the repair program to include 2018 and any 2019 MacBook Pro models that experience the problem despite these changes. Read more about the Keyboard Service Program here, or how to find out if your Mac qualifies below.
Since Apple introduced the butterfly mechanism keyboard with the MacBook in 2015, and the MacBook Pro in 2016, a number of users have reported problems with keys repeating characters and other keys not working.
Commonly users are finding that a particular MacBook or MacBook Pro (and now MacBook Air) keyboard key has stopped working. In the worst case scenarios, users have found that the spacebar or shift key have stopped working.
At the end of June 2018 Apple admitted that there is a problem and began offering free repairs to customers who have been affected.
Prior to Apple's admission of the problem, three class action lawsuits relating to the keyboard issues have been filed against Apple. The first lawsuit was filed in May 2018 on behalf of two people who’s MacBook Pro keyboards stopped working. In the second lawsuit, three plaintiffs allege that the butterfly mechanism used for keyboards in the MacBook since 2015 and the MacBook Pro line since 2016 are "prone to failure".
One plaintif, Remy Turner claimed that he experienced problems with a sticky spacebar. Another plaintiff, Christopher Martin reported problems with his space bar sticking and since his warranty had expired, he would have been required to pay for the repair, according to AppleInsider.
The lawsuits followed a petition which now has more than 36,561 signatures (as of 21 May 2019).
The petition suggests that Apple should “recall every MacBook Pro released since Late 2016, and replace the keyboards on all of them with new, redesigned keyboards that just work.”
“Every one of Apple's current-gen MacBook Pro models, 13in and 15in, is sold with a keyboard that can become defective at any moment due to a design failure,” claims Taylor.
When it launched the 2018 MacBook Pro Apple premiered a new keyboard design, which appeared to be designed to fix the issue thanks to a new layer of plastic beneath the keys that should stop dust becoming trapped (although Apple didn't officially make that claim, saying instead that it made for a quieter keyboard).
Even Apple has confirmed to the Wall Street Journal in March 2019 that: "We are aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third-generation butterfly keyboard and for that we are sorry. The vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience with the new keyboard."
Apple lists the following affected laptops on its website:
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2015)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2016)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, 2017)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018) (added to program in May 2019)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2016)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2017)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) (added to program in May 2019)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018) (added to program in May 2019)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) (added to program in May 2019)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019) (added to program in May 2019)
That list now includes the newer models - even the models that Apple introduced in May 2019. Apple emphasises that "No other Mac notebook models are part of this program."
It is likely that you are being affected by the issue if one or more keys have stopped working on your 2015 or later MacBook, or 2016 or later MacBook Pro, or 2018 MacBook Air.
There have been other issues with the MacBook Pro keyboard that seem to be unrelated to the issue being addressed by the class action lawsuit. For example, some users have reported problems with keys making a high-pitched clicking noise when pressed. That problem seem to occur when the MacBooks get hot, but some users have reported having issues at any temperature.
How to get a MacBook keyboard replaced by Apple
If your Mac laptop is one of those noted above and you are having issues with your keyboard, Apple says that you should contact an Apple Authorized Service Provider, make an appointment at an Apple Retail Store, or send your Mac to an Apple Repair Centre.
We have more information about how to get your Mac repaired here.
Your machine will be examined by Apple to verify that it is eligible for the repair program. As long as it is one of the machines mentioned above you should be able to get the repair done for free.
Beware, if there are existing issues with your Mac - even if they are unrelated to the keyboard problem - Apple may determine that these also need rectifying - and may charge you for this.
The company also recommends that you backup before sending your Mac off to be fixed.
Some people have already spent money getting their MacBook keyboard replaced. If you have already paid for repairs Apple says it will reimburse you - you will need to contact them via this webpage.
The program will cover eligible MacBook and MacBook Pro models for four years after the first retail sale of the unit. This means that the earliest MacBook models that qualify (from 2015) are no longer be covered. Unfortunately Apple is not extending the program beyond the "four years after the first retail sale of the unit".
As of May 2019, the company has announced that it will be speeding up the process by which faulty keyboards are replaced.
Prior to Apple announcing the repair program, users had reported that being a little heavy-handed when typing, or even hammering the faulty key many times with your finger, could cure the issue.
Apple itself previously recommended using compressed air to blow the dust from under the affected key (as per this support document).
The problem is that if the repairs suggested were unsuccessful, it was impossible to remove the dust without removing the entire keyboard. It is not possible to take individual keys out to clean the keyboard as it used to be with older models. And it's not just the keyboard that must be removed but also the battery, frame and ports - a repair that can only be performed by an Apple service professional.
Wondering what a MacBook keyboard replacement can cost? Reports indicate that the repair could run to $700 (£521) or more, if the warranty has expired. Here's how to book an appointment at an Apple Store if you need to.
It isn't surprising that some of those affected by unresponsive MacBook keys are calling for Apple to recognise the issue (which appears to be related to the keyboard design) and recall the affected machines.
If your MacBook isn't one of the ones affected by the butterfly keyboard mechanism, you may be able to fix it yourself, read: How to fix a Mac. We also have guides to how to fix a broken Mac keyboard and how to clean a Mac keyboard here.
What causes the MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboard fault?
It is thought that a spec of dust can render some MacBook or MacBook Pro keyboards useless. It seems that dust and small particles can get stuck under keys and the spacebar, making them unresponsive.
The problem appears to be related to the 'butterfly' mechanism (used on the MacBook since 2015 and MacBook Pro since 2016). The 'butterfly' mechanism distributes the pressure on a key more evenly than the traditional 'scissor' mechanism. More crucially, at least in terms of design, the butterfly-style keys mean that the keyboard can be flatter, and the MacBook itself thinner.
The problem appears to be that if a spec of dust gets underneath a key it can stop the key from depressing all the way - and that can stop the key from registering.
It appears that Apple is already looking for ways to address the issue in future keyboard design. As we mention in our article looking at the rumours about the 2018 MacBook Pro, Apple has filed a keyboard related patent that outlines ways to stop spilt fluid, crumbs and dust from blocking key movement and damaging the circuitry.
Read more: Inside the new MacBook Pro.
Wondering what 2019 might have in store for the MacBook Pro? Read about the 2019 MacBook Pro here.
Other problems with Apple laptops
While the most publicised, there have been other issues with Apple laptops, and some of these also have service programmes that have been announced by Apple. We'll detail them below.
Apple has recognised an issue with non Touch Bar models of the 13in MacBook Pro. The company states that "a limited number of 128GB and 256GB solid-state drives (SSD) used in 13-inch MacBook Pro (non Touch Bar) units have an issue that may result in data loss and failure of the drive."
The 13in MacBook Pro units with affected drives were sold between June 2017 and June 2018.
Apple will fix the issue for free if your MacBook Pro is eligable. There is more information here.
MacBook Pro popping speakers
Shortly after the 2016 MacBook Pro got into users' hands, reports of loud crackling and popping noises through the speakers started to appear on community forums. It was initially thought that, the noises only occured if the user boots into Microsoft Windows using Boot Camp. However, one Macworld reader has commented that:
"I have a 2017 MacBook Pro and I had speakers replaced 2 times due to them popping. And I had not installed Windows, it all happened in MacOS. So it is 100% a hardware issue and not Boot Camps fault."
Some users even reported that their MacBook Pro speakers were permanently damaged by the noises when Windows was booted, which subsequently meant the speakers no longer worked then they booted back into macOS. The right speaker in particular seems to be affected in this way.
The problem doesn't appear to have gone away. Reports suggest that the 2018 MacBook Pro is also facing issues with the speakers.
There are reports on Reddit and YouTube from users who are experiencing a cracking sound from the speakers, even at a relatively low volume.
"The crackling noise is noticeable after a few mintues whlist listening to audio files or youtube type of websites," claimed one Reddit poster who had his new MacBook Pro replaced and found that the issue remained. He suspects that it’s the drivers. Other posters suspect that it’s a firmware issue.
What is causing the problem with MacBook Pro speakers?
It's not clear if the crackles and pops are caused by a logic board issue or perhaps just poor audio drivers within Windows. The latter seems the most likely, although as our commenter suggested, it could be a hardware issue.
Have you experienced this particular problem? Let us know in the comments below.
How to tell if your MacBook Pro has a popping speakers fault
You'll know if you're affected by this issue because, obviously, you'll hear the noises described above should you boot into Windows. Interestingly, if you access Windows via virtualisation software like VMware Fusion or Parallels then the issue does not arise.
How to fix MacBook Pro with popping speakers
The issue with the Boot Camp drivers was addressed by a software update, so if you use Boot Camp to boot into Windows, make sure you run the latest version or use a different virtualisation app instead.
You could also ensure that headphones are attached via the 3.5mm audio jack before using Boot Camp to boot into Windows, as this will avoid the MacBook Pro's speakers being used. The crackling/pops will not be heard in the headphones. Notably, users affected by the issue report that simply turning the volume control down has no effect; the loud crackling and pops continue.
If your MacBook Pro has been damaged by the crackles and pops then you should be able to make a warranty claim with Apple.
Apple has confirmed that the 2017 MacBook Pro (without Touch Bar) is affected by a problem with function keys.
In a memo distributed to Apple Stores in June 2018, Apple wrote that it had “identified a specific population of MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports) units requiring both solid state drives and the main logic board to be replaced when either has a functional failure,” via MacRumors.
Apparently, if either the SSD or logic board inside the 2017 MacBook Pro fails, it will be necessary to replace both components.
The note indicates that Apple has authorised free repairs for this issue, even if the unit is out of warranty.
MacBook Pro USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 issues
The fact that the MacBook Pro models feature only USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and therefore require adapters to connect just about any external hardware, is old news. However, there are reports that not all USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 adapters work correctly with the 2016 MacBook Pro models.
For example, unauthorised Mac repair guy and YouTube star Louis Rossmann noted in a hands-on review (warning: includes significant bad language!) that some USB-C adapters not only slowed down his 13in non-Touch Bar 2016 MacBook Pro but also appeared to slow or entirely kill the MacBook Pro's Wi-Fi connection. The adapters worked perfectly with a Dell laptop.
Meanwhile, Mac developer Khaos Tian has not only discovered that some third-party Thunderbolt 3 docks don't work with the new 2016 MacBook Pro but even got a response from somebody at Apple implying that non-Apple certified models are unlikely ever to be supported.
How to fix USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 incompatibility issues
Buying only Apple's own USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 adapters is the obvious solution. Buying third-party adaptors or docks will probably be cheaper but, as Apple says, only those certified by Apple are guaranteed to work - and there's still relatively few of those.
If you have a Thunderbolt 3 dock that's incompatible then Khaos Tian has detailed a hack that might fix it but it's very technical in nature and not for beginners.
Apple might provide a future update to macOS Sierra to include support for non-compatible USB-C/Thunderbolt hardware but knowing Apple like we do - and coupled to the fact they have their own range of adapters - we wouldn't hold our breath waiting for a fix. To be honest, if you're affected then we reckon it's best to bite the bullet and get new Apple-approved adapters.
Read next: Best USB-C adapters and cables
Macworld poll: Have you experienced problems with the MacBook Pro?
Additional reporting by Keir Thomas.