00:00:19 ◼ ► But four years later, in November 2019, the story we'd been following all this time changed.
00:00:25 ◼ ► It was no longer a debate about sound, stability, feel, travel, or any of the other terms we'd debated all that time.
00:00:33 ◼ ► Just like that, those conversations were over, and we were left on the cold autumn streets of New York City
00:00:51 ◼ ► Yes, that's all very interesting, but will I be dissatisfied with the butterfly switches on my computer?
00:01:02 ◼ ► From Relay FM, it's Upgrade, the story of technology told week by week. I'm Jason Snell.
00:01:07 ◼ ► Here's how the story ends. It's November 2019, and I'm walking into a building in Tribeca in New York City.
00:01:17 ◼ ► You might think that Apple's headquarters in New York City is in the showy glass cube on Fifth Avenue, Apple's retail store.
00:01:24 ◼ ► But it's not. It's this nondescript building down the street from a diner just off-Broadway.
00:01:30 ◼ ► Vanity Fair calls it "a capacious loft in a Civil War-era five-story former mansion in Lower Manhattan."
00:01:37 ◼ ► A reader of the Tribeca Citizen described it as "basically what you'd expect would happen if Apple decorated a Tribeca apartment, complete with glass staircase."
00:01:46 ◼ ► It's true, the two main levels of this building are connected by a staircase that wouldn't look out of place in an Apple store.
00:01:55 ◼ ► Apparently, Apple hosted a party here back in March for publishing executives trying to convince them what a good idea it was to join its Apple News Plus service.
00:02:12 ◼ ► In any event, I am not a New York publisher. I report about technology, mostly Apple technology.
00:02:23 ◼ ► Now, you have to understand, Apple generally doesn't tell you what you're going to hear about.
00:02:27 ◼ ► You can get a sense, based on who gives you the invitation, about what general product category is involved.
00:02:33 ◼ ► But as I'm walking out of the cold and into the lobby of Apple's building, I don't know anything for sure.
00:02:39 ◼ ► There will be an announcement, and later today I'm coming back to interview someone, but that's it.
00:02:45 ◼ ► Rumors have been swirling for some time that there's a new Apple laptop coming, a 16-inch MacBook Pro, and that it might have a new keyboard design.
00:02:52 ◼ ► That's a big deal for Apple watchers, because the company's current line of laptops use a keyboard that a lot of people don't like.
00:03:00 ◼ ► So I'm sitting on a leather couch with eight other media types, listening to a presentation that starts with Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller,
00:03:18 ◼ ► There's a new 16-inch laptop, yes. It's got faster chips and longer battery life and an upgraded audio system.
00:03:24 ◼ ► But what everyone hears, the thing we all write down in our notebooks or tap into the Notes app on our phones, is that the butterfly keyboard is dead.
00:04:00 ◼ ► "While the death of a human being is a tragedy, the death of a computer keyboard should be cause for neither celebration nor grief.
00:04:07 ◼ ► And yet, here we are, excited about a keyboard being replaced with a different keyboard.
00:04:37 ◼ ► Apple is holding a special event with the title "Spring Forward," and I'm sitting in the audience.
00:04:47 ◼ ► After about half an hour of retail updates, Apple TV news, and the announcement of a health study, it's time for a product announcement.
00:04:55 ◼ ► Tim Cook drops the news that this is a new, smaller MacBook laptop, and leaves the stage to Phil Schiller to explain the details.
00:05:03 ◼ ► Among them is that Apple has taken it on itself to design an entirely different keyboard.
00:05:11 ◼ ► As you move to a thinner design, it took an entirely new kind of invention to make it a beautiful keyboard.
00:05:21 ◼ ► and the new MacBook was a thin, light, low-powered, and high-priced laptop that didn't appeal to Apple's most exacting and technical users.
00:05:38 ◼ ► But for those of us who got one and tried it out, the early reviews were not encouraging.
00:05:48 ◼ ► The biggest problem was something called travel, which is the amount of key moves downward when you press on it.
00:06:02 ◼ ► Here's a slow-motion video of a customer typing on a standard keyboard, and as you see, as the keys get pressed, they're a bit wobbly.
00:06:15 ◼ ► The butterfly mechanism is built of a single assembly, and it's supported by a stainless-steel dome switch.
00:06:34 ◼ ► The keys are much more precise, much more accurate, even if you strike them on the side.
00:06:42 ◼ ► I gotta be honest, at that moment in March of 2015, I had never, ever, ever heard anyone seriously criticize a keyboard for having keys that were too wobbly.
00:06:51 ◼ ► But Apple had decided that keeping keys stable, even when you hit them off-center, was a priority.
00:06:57 ◼ ► So it invented an entirely new mechanism to replace the scissor switch design that had been used on laptops for years.
00:07:04 ◼ ► The new mechanism was shaped a bit like two overlapping wings, and so they called it the butterfly.
00:07:20 ◼ ► Marco Arment's post on the matter simply said, "The MacBook's keyboard is not good. I can type on the MacBook, but I'd rather not."
00:07:31 ◼ ► That reduced key travel, those new switches, they were all in service of a thin laptop that was the most extreme and iPad-like Mac Apple had ever made.
00:07:43 ◼ ► I wrote that I was hopeful that Apple saw the keyboard as what it was, a pretty serious compromise in order to get the computer thinner,
00:07:50 ◼ ► rather than some breakthrough new keyboard that will be replicated on every other Apple keyboard in the next year or two.
00:08:14 ◼ ► Instabug is an SDK that takes complete care of your beta testing and user feedback process, allowing you to debug, fix, and improve your app faster and easier.
00:08:24 ◼ ► It takes just a minute to install, giving you seamless two-way communication with users or testers.
00:08:29 ◼ ► Your users will be able to shake their phones to send you feedback with screenshots that can be annotated and a log of touch events so you can focus on what's needed to fix the problem.
00:08:41 ◼ ► Every crash is reported with a complete stack trace and reproduction steps, helping you fully understand what happened.
00:08:47 ◼ ► And all of your crash data can be viewed together with charts, helping you get an overview of performance at a glance.
00:08:53 ◼ ► Instabug also features in-app chat so you can easily communicate with your users to get more feedback and let them know what's going on.
00:09:03 ◼ ► You can integrate with all of your favorite third-party tools like Jira, Slack, Trello, GitHub, and more so you and your team can have all your work together in your favorite places.
00:09:20 ◼ ► And as a special offer for listeners of this show, if you sign up and install the SDK, you'll get a free Instabug t-shirt along with your 14-day free trial.
00:09:50 ◼ ► In October, Apple introduced an entirely different keyboard called the Magic Keyboard, and it didn't use butterfly switches.
00:09:59 ◼ ► It had a millimeter of key travel, twice that of the butterfly keyboard in the MacBook.
00:10:09 ◼ ► After just a few months, people were already a little skeptical of the butterfly keyboard.
00:10:14 ◼ ► When discussing the keyboard on John Gruber's podcast, The Talk Show, Serenity Caldwell of iMore referred to it this way.
00:10:26 ◼ ► Because it has the new not butterfly mechanism, but different scissor mechanism than previous keyboards.
00:10:40 ◼ ► Now some of us, with optimism still remaining in our hearts, took it as a sign that Apple wasn't going to be satisfied with sticking with the butterfly keyboard.
00:10:48 ◼ ► This was a weird design created for a weird thin MacBook, and they weren't going to stick it into the rest of its laptops.
00:10:59 ◼ ► The fear I had was that Apple would decide that the work it had done on the MacBook keyboard shouldn't be limited to that product.
00:11:06 ◼ ► And the result would be that a new design, fit for a tiny laptop, would spread across every Mac.
00:11:12 ◼ ► If nothing else, the new $99 Magic Keyboard seems to suggest that the keyboard dystopia, I fear, won't come to be.
00:11:33 ◼ ► Apple announces something completely different. This is a new iPad. It's the very first iPad Pro.
00:11:44 ◼ ► Apple has created a keyboard so thin it doubles as an iPad cover. It's called the Smart Keyboard.
00:11:49 ◼ ► The Smart Keyboard uses the same butterfly mechanism as the MacBook keyboard, but not in the same way.
00:11:55 ◼ ► In the Smart Keyboard, the keys aren't made of hard plastic. They're made of a fabric-like material that springs back on its own after you press it.
00:12:03 ◼ ► It's a lot like the MacBook keyboard, but I'm more forgiving of it, as are most other reviewers.
00:12:08 ◼ ► It's an iPad keyboard made of fabric. Sure, it feels weird. But it gets graded on a curve, because it's so unusual.
00:12:23 ◼ ► In October, Apple calls the media to a special event at its Town Hall Theatre on the old Infinite Loop campus.
00:12:34 ◼ ► It's a cramped space, long since replaced with the much more spacious Steve Jobs Theatre at the company's new Apple Park campus.
00:12:48 ◼ ► He put the introduction in the context of the company's rich history of laptops, complete with a video featuring swooping views of the original PowerBook and numerous successors, all leading up to a shot of the brand new model.
00:13:01 ◼ ► Now, you may not realize it, but this week happens to be a huge week in the history of the Mac and in the history of Apple.
00:13:22 ◼ ► Now, the anniversary Cook is referring to here is the release of the first generation of the PowerBook 100 series in October of 1991.
00:13:31 ◼ ► What's interesting about this is that the PowerBook 100, 140, and 170 weren't actually the first Apple laptops, no matter what Tim Cook claimed.
00:13:41 ◼ ► To tell that story, we have to go back two years earlier, September 1989, when Apple's Jean-Louis Gasset introduced a 16-pound Mac with a handle called the Mac Portable.
00:14:00 ◼ ► Everything you do on a desktop machine, we wanted you to be able to do on a portable Macintosh. Not just a little bit of note-taking and spreadsheets to work.
00:14:14 ◼ ► Everything you do on a desktop. No subset of applications, no Mac Junior, no compromise.
00:14:23 ◼ ► Now, if you ask classic Mac aficionado Stephen Hackett, the Mac Portable was a system that was- Jason, Jason, Jason, I think this is too much.
00:14:35 ◼ ► Okay, you know, the history of the Mac laptop is much more than the PowerBook 100. There's the portable, there's the eMate, there's the-
00:14:41 ◼ ► Look, I think we can do those stories another time. I think, look, if we just cut out the Mac Portable stuff, stick to the 2016 MacBook Pro for now, I think it's gonna make more sense.
00:14:50 ◼ ► Yeah, okay, yeah, you're right, you're right. This is probably a tangent too far. Yeah. Sorry, Stephen.
00:15:09 ◼ ► The most notable feature of the 2016 MacBook Pro wasn't its butterfly keyboard. It was something called the Touch Bar, a touchscreen strip placed where the function keys would normally be on a traditional keyboard.
00:15:21 ◼ ► Now, whether the Touch Bar has been a success or a failure in the ensuing three years is debatable, but that's a different podcast.
00:15:33 ◼ ► The keyboard is all new as well. It uses the butterfly switch mechanism that we pioneered in our 12-inch MacBook, but now we've applied it to a professional notebook.
00:15:44 ◼ ► And in this case, there's a new switch mechanism, a second-generation butterfly. It's more responsive and gives an even greater sense of keyboard travel as you press on it.
00:15:53 ◼ ► It is a great keyboard. And I could talk all day about it, but I think you're probably looking at that area just above it.
00:16:02 ◼ ► That's it. Apple clearly doesn't think going to the butterfly keyboard is an issue. It's an afterthought to the shiny new technology of the Touch Bar.
00:16:11 ◼ ► But on the accidental tech podcast, Marco Arment has noticed something. You'll remember he was a critic of the original MacBook keyboard.
00:16:19 ◼ ► What he's noticed is that Apple has gone out of its way to say that the keyboard in the MacBook Pro is not quite like the one in the MacBook.
00:16:27 ◼ ► It was interesting too, like in the Johnny Ive explanation video, that they really hammered on the fact that this was the second-generation butterfly key switch.
00:16:36 ◼ ► They really made it very clear, this is not the same keyboard, this is an improved keyboard.
00:16:41 ◼ ► Which I thought was kind of a tacit acknowledgement of like, yeah, that first one wasn't very good, or was at least controversial.
00:16:46 ◼ ► So they really want us to know that this is new and improved. We'll see if it actually is.
00:17:00 ◼ ► They were all more expensive than previous models. The Touch Bar's usefulness was debatable.
00:17:06 ◼ ► They switched from the long-standing USB-A connector that had been used to connect peripherals to Macs since the original iMac, to the new USB-C standard,
00:17:15 ◼ ► meaning that new buyers would need to buy new cables or special adapters to use their old devices with the new laptops.
00:17:22 ◼ ► But the thing that really bugged a lot of people was the keyboard. And what's worse, there was no alternative.
00:17:29 ◼ ► Keyboard preference is highly personal. There's no keyboard that can be called objectively better than another, because we all look for different things in our keyboards.
00:17:44 ◼ ► And of course, we're only human. Change is hard to adapt to, and Apple was asking every MacBook Pro user to adapt to a new keyboard style.
00:17:57 ◼ ► It didn't offer much travel. It felt weird. The key layout wasn't quite right. It made a loud crunching sound when you typed.
00:18:06 ◼ ► And those people had nowhere to turn. Because Apple's the only company that makes Macs.
00:18:11 ◼ ► If you hated USB-C, you could buy a dongle. If you hated the touch bar, you could ignore it.
00:18:16 ◼ ► But you can't replace a laptop keyboard. If you wanted to stick with the Mac, and you wanted a laptop made after 2015, you had to use the butterfly keyboard.
00:18:26 ◼ ► Now, if the only flaw in the butterfly keyboard was that it felt weird and sounded different, perhaps it could have survived.
00:18:34 ◼ ► Over the years, people seemed to get used to the new keyboard. Maybe it was just begrudging acceptance.
00:18:40 ◼ ► But that might have been enough. Apple might have managed to whistle past the graveyard.
00:18:45 ◼ ► Except it turns out that aesthetics weren't the only problem with the butterfly keyboard.
00:18:51 ◼ ► It was unreliable. It was a keyboard that couldn't typewrite. And that was its fatal flaw.
00:19:19 ◼ ► Their curation team only selects apps that meet the highest quality standards in design, usefulness, and user experience.
00:19:26 ◼ ► It's easily one of the most productive tools you can have on your Mac because it packs over 150 apps into one.
00:19:33 ◼ ► It saves so much time and money. The search for the best tools has been done for you, and you pay just one flat fee per month.
00:19:47 ◼ ► Go now to SetApp.com, and if you like it, pay just $9.99 per month for as long as it's useful to you, and it will be.
00:19:54 ◼ ► Once again, that's SetApp.com, S-E-T-A-P-P dot com, to see how it fits in with your workflow.
00:20:05 ◼ ► On June 7th, 2017, right in the middle of Apple's worldwide developer conference, the company posted a support document on its website.
00:20:13 ◼ ► Most of these documents are nondescript. They'll tell you what keys to hold down to reset your laptop's power system,
00:20:31 ◼ ► If your MacBook, 2015 and later, or MacBook Pro, 2016 and later, has an unresponsive key,
00:20:37 ◼ ► or a key that feels different than the other keys when you press it, follow these steps to clean the keyboard with compressed air.
00:20:43 ◼ ► As you follow these steps, remember to use the straw included with the compressed air to control airflow,
00:21:01 ◼ ► Two, use compressed air to spray the keyboard, or adjust the affected keys, in a left to right motion.
00:21:07 ◼ ► Three, rotate your Mac notebook to its right side, and spray the keyboard again, from left to right.
00:21:18 ◼ ► If any keys are still unresponsive after you followed these steps, visit an Apple retail store, or Apple authorized service provider for service.
00:21:28 ◼ ► In October 2017, a full year after the MacBook Pro with the butterfly keyboard came out,
00:21:33 ◼ ► the website The Outline posts a piece by tech writer Casey Johnston called "Bad Tech, the New MacBook Keyboard, is Ruining My Life."
00:21:45 ◼ ► while an Apple genius investigates why every time she presses the space bar on her keyboard, it generates two spaces.
00:22:00 ◼ ► When the problem is a problem, and other people are having it, and other people are coming and claiming it,
00:22:05 ◼ ► and you're pretending like they're some crazy, weird one-off, or innocuous, like the line that I kept hearing,
00:22:11 ◼ ► "Oh, maybe it's just a piece of dust," is like, you know in your cosmic overlord Apple brain that you have done something wrong here.
00:22:23 ◼ ► So for someone to be telling me that my problem is like some sort of non-problem, it is really kind of messed up.
00:22:36 ◼ ► A keyboard that was already not particularly beloved by a lot of people because of the reduced key travel was also clearly unreliable.
00:22:47 ◼ ► Tech notes about spraying compressed air at a 75 degree angle in order to blow out debris.
00:22:53 ◼ ► It's as if the butterfly keyboard was designed in one of those perfectly white, perfectly clean rooms where they prepare space probes or create silicon chips.
00:23:18 ◼ ► The butterfly keyboard proved to be especially vulnerable to hair and dust and crumbs and all the other real-world items that get into keyboards.
00:23:43 ◼ ► Anyway, it also turned out that there was no way to replace a broken key on this keyboard.
00:23:50 ◼ ► A single crumb could lead to a chain of events that required the laptop to be sent out for major surgery.
00:23:58 ◼ ► Surely Apple, one of the most innovative companies in technology, would step up and solve the problem.
00:24:08 ◼ ► First, it declared a sort of amnesty for old keyboards by extending its warranty program to cover repairs on all the laptops that were made with a butterfly keyboard.
00:24:19 ◼ ► Apple has determined that a small percentage of the keyboards in certain MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro models may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors.
00:24:37 ◼ ► Apple or an Apple authorized service provider will service eligible MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro keyboards free of charge.
00:24:45 ◼ ► The type of service will be determined after the keyboard is examined and may involve the replacement of one or more keys or the whole keyboard.
00:24:53 ◼ ► Apple didn't stop there. It also released new models with a thin silicone barrier under the keycaps.
00:25:01 ◼ ► Apple said it was there to make typing quieter, but a lot of people were suspicious that it was also an attempt to protect the keyboard from debris.
00:25:15 ◼ ► If Casey Johnston helped kill the butterfly keyboard, the Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern is certainly in the lineup of suspects.
00:25:22 ◼ ► In the spring of 2019, she posted a story and a video that went into great detail about how Apple's keyboards, including the altered one in the newest models, just didn't work right.
00:25:32 ◼ ► Some people who have used all three generations of this keyboard with models made in 2015 through 2019 have experienced issues.
00:25:42 ◼ ► Some keys don't register. Some keys it registers twice so you get a double letter. Sometimes the keys get stuck.
00:25:49 ◼ ► And I've had most of those issues with the E key and sometimes the R key on my new MacBook Air.
00:25:55 ◼ ► And not to be outdone, Casey Johnston posted a new item on the outline in April of 2019, headlined "Apple owes everyone an apology and it should start with me, specifically."
00:26:05 ◼ ► Apple continued to insist that only a small percentage of people were experiencing trouble with their keyboards.
00:26:15 ◼ ► Apple's statistics are presumably coming from counting the number of people coming into Apple stores complaining of keyboard problems.
00:26:27 ◼ ► It doesn't take into account all the people suffering in silence or taking care of the problem themselves with a can of compressed air from the local hardware store.
00:26:37 ◼ ► My daughter has a MacBook with a butterfly keyboard. And before she went off to college, I asked her if she was having any trouble with the keyboard.
00:26:45 ◼ ► She said she wasn't, except that, you know, keys would get stuck sometimes and eventually they'd get unstuck.
00:27:01 ◼ ► Apple changed the butterfly keyboard one last time, and for all we know, it may have actually solved the problem.
00:27:07 ◼ ► I haven't heard a lot of stories about the newest butterfly keyboards failing, but the damage had already been done.
00:27:14 ◼ ► The word was out. In newspapers and magazines and websites and spreading by word of mouth, Apple laptops have bad keyboards and you shouldn't buy them.
00:27:26 ◼ ► Did Apple truly fix the butterfly keyboard? Was it even possible to ever really fix it?
00:27:46 ◼ ► If all the popular podcasts about crime have taught me anything, it's that it's hard to find a satisfying answer to these questions.
00:27:54 ◼ ► Nobody killed the butterfly keyboard. Everybody killed it. What matters is that it's dead.
00:28:15 ◼ ► There are no easy answers to anything. If we want to do a tech true crime podcast, we have to nail the ending.
00:28:24 ◼ ► No, Jason, we can be better than Serial. We can give a satisfying ending. I think saying that there are no easy answers is the easy answer.
00:28:36 ◼ ► Yes, in here. I like this episode so far, but you've missed so many angles to this story, Jason. There are so many unexplored chapters.
00:28:49 ◼ ► Who killed the butterfly keyboard? There are many suspects. What about Sir Johnny Ive, who insisted on making Apple's devices as thin as possible?
00:29:02 ◼ ► Maybe it was the engineer who decided that the scissor switch just wasn't cool enough and that there was a new way to make keyboards that had never been tried before but was ready to be discovered.
00:29:12 ◼ ► Myke, you know, the venerable scissor switch has its origins in the laptop designs of the early 1980s.
00:29:18 ◼ ► But to really understand the complexities of this situation, we need to go back to the start, the creation of the first typewriter.
00:29:30 ◼ ► No, we're not doing this again. We're not going to 1874. Nobody cares about the history of the typewriter, Jason.
00:29:44 ◼ ► People like Casey Johnston, Joanna Stern, Mark O'Armond, they focused on this problem until Apple realized that the situation couldn't go on.
00:29:52 ◼ ► Did they coordinate their efforts? Did they use John Gruber's blog as a clearinghouse for complaints, knowing that key Apple executives were watching the blog closely?
00:30:08 ◼ ► Hey, Jason, you'd be surprised what I have learned. This goes way deeper than you think.
00:30:14 ◼ ► Let's consider the Touch Bar. You mentioned it in passing, but the Touch Bar and the butterfly keyboard, they go hand in hand.
00:30:21 ◼ ► It's like a match made in keyboard hell. If the Touch Bar was there at the time the MacBook Pro was announced, that makes it an accessory to the crime.
00:30:34 ◼ ► I don't want it. I'm just saying the Touch Bar is a suspect. And that's just the start. It goes deeper.
00:30:46 ◼ ► There's a reason it's called Escape. Also, they're super nice people and I'm now a member of their Patreon. They've just got like the greatest perks.
00:30:54 ◼ ► But consider the SD card slot, alright? It disappeared in 2016, which upsets many photographers. And people that think they're photographers.
00:31:01 ◼ ► Now, in 2019, Apple brings back a scissor keyboard and yes, the Escape key, but where's the SD card slot, huh? What's the story there?
00:31:12 ◼ ► A dongle, Jason? You think this whole thing can be explained away with a dongle? I'm disappointed in you.
00:31:28 ◼ ► Hi Tim, got a question for you. Maybe Luca will have something. Wondering if you've gotten any reports that the butterfly keyboard in the new MacBook Pro is unpopular, maybe, and shouldn't have ever been released?
00:31:45 ◼ ► As I've said before, my view is there will be a day in the future that we look back and Apple's greatest contribution will be the keyboard.
00:31:59 ◼ ► It happened last spring. Maybe you didn't transcribe that one. Maybe you're on vacation. Don't worry about it.
00:32:05 ◼ ► No, I'm pretty sure I want to notice that question. Was that you? Was that you asking this? Did you make a fake analyst call?
00:32:11 ◼ ► Now who's getting carried away with conspiracy theories? You know I can't do an American accent.
00:32:30 ◼ ► Actually, I kind of love that. If crime podcasts have taught me anything, it's that there's usually a great twist that makes me question everything I thought I knew.
00:32:38 ◼ ► Well, I went to an Apple store earlier today, Jason. Do you know what I found? The butterfly keyboard is not dead at all. They're everywhere.
00:32:46 ◼ ► They're still selling the 13-inch MacBook Pros, the Retina MacBook Airs. They both have the butterfly keyboard inside. How can it be dead if they're still out there selling them today?
00:33:05 ◼ ► This Upgrade Special Report was a production of Relay FM. The producer was Myke Hurley. Executive producers were Steven Hackett and Myke Hurley.
00:33:19 ◼ ► This episode was written and presented by me, Jason Snell, with additional production help from Brian Hamilton.