If your MacBook’s keys don’t work the way they should, you might have the infamous butterfly keyboard. Here’s how to find out if you’ve gotten stuck with Apple’s lemon of a keyboard design, and where to find repair options.
What Is the Mac Butterfly Keyboard?
What on earth is a Mac butterfly keyboard? Sadly, it’s not an input device for lepidopterists but a kind of keyboard mechanism. And this particular mechanism is deeply flawed. I say this as I type this very blog on a separate USB keyboard because I have one of these broken MacBooks myself, so I feel your pain. Thousands of MacBook users find themselves in the same situation, with a computer keyboard that refuses to work properly.
Apple’s “butterfly” mechanism, named for its shape, was supposed to be the next generation of keyboard design. It turned out to be a flop. An alternative to the “scissor” design used by most keyboards, Apple’s proprietary butterfly keyboard was used in MacBooks and MacBook Pros from 2015 through 2019. After a flurry of news reports and consumer ire, Apple put aside the butterfly design and used a different type of keyboard on newer (post-2019) MacBooks, so those don’t suffer from the same flaw.
The Symptoms: Sticky and Missing Keys
Unlike the all-purpose scissor design which remains in widespread use, Apple’s butterfly keyboard can’t stand up to everyday tasks. The keys stick and repeat themselves, or they don’t work at all. (For example, mine has decided that the alphabet occasionally does not include the letters “b” or “n”.) It’s susceptible to even the tiniest fragments of dust. And because of the MacBook’s design, you can’t replace individual keys. You have to take the computer to an authorized repair center and have the entire keyboard replaced.
The Fix: MacBook Butterfly Keyboard Repair Options
The problem is so bad that Apple acknowledged it and is offering free repairs. So if you have one of the affected MacBooks, you might want to explore that option. This is the list of MacBook models eligible for Apple’s free repair service according to Apple’s web site. To find your MacBook model, go to the Apple menu and select About This Mac.
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2015)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2016)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, 2017)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2019)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, 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)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)
The Other “Fix”: Cleaning the Mac Butterfly Keyboard
The only other fix for the butterfly keyboard isn’t a fix, but a temporary measure. You can make keyboard cleaning part of your everyday routine. But for the best results, you have to clean a butterfly keyboard in a particular way. Apple even has an entire tech support article on it. You’ll need compressed air and a bit of patience as you hold the keyboard at a 75 degree angle and then rotate it so you’re blowing out the dust from all four sides. It’s not as much of a pain as it sounds, but in my experience it won’t be long before another infintesimal mote of dust brings your keys to a screeching halt again.
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