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Apple will fix sticky keyboards on some MacBooks, MacBook Pros

The company's fragile "butterfly switch" keyboard design has spawned user frustration and even lawsuits. If you have one, you now can get it fixed or replaced for free.

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Apple's butterfly switch keyboard has faced criticism by users. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple has finally admitted defeat when it comes to its MacBook "butterfly switch" keyboards. Well sorta. 

The company on Friday said it will replace "a small percentage of the keyboards in certain MacBook and MacBook Pro models" whose letters or characters repeat unexpectedly, letters or characters don't appear or whose keys feel "sticky" or don't respond consistently. 

Every model listed -- ranging from 2015's 12-inch Retina MacBook to 2017's 15-inch MacBook Pro -- uses the butterfly switch design Apple first rolled out with its computer revamp in 2015. Both the first- and second-generations of the butterfly switch design are covered in the service plan, and the MacBooks covered under the repair plan include models with and without the Touch Bar. 

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Apple, in a statement provided to CNET, reiterated the parameters of the service program but didn't give more details about the number of devices impacted. 

"Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider will examine the customer's device to verify eligibility and then perform the service free of charge," the company said. "Service may involve the replacement of one or more keys or the whole keyboard."

Apple added that customers who've already paid for a repair related to the service program can contact the company to get a refund for the service cost. 

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Apple explains the difference between the new and old keyboard mechanisms on its Macbook page. 

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

Apple rolled out the new keyboard design in 2015 in an effort to make its laptops even thinner and lighter than in the past. The butterfly switch replaced the traditional "scissor" mechanism below each key and was meant to be more stable, responsive and comfortable.

But almost immediately, users complained about the feel of the new keyboards and said they could be easily damaged by specks of dust. Some have said they've had to go a week or more without their computer while Apple replaced not just the unresponsive key, but a substantial part of their MacBook. And the fix isn't cheap. Some have said the out-of-warranty fix can set you back $700.

At least three proposed class action lawsuits have been filed against Apple over the use of the butterfly switch. 

Apple, in response to the butterfly switch complaints, published a webpage a year ago outlining how to clean the keyboard using a can of compressed air. But some users have said that doesn't work. By now launching a replacement program, Apple appears to be admitting the problem is worse than it earlier thought. 

The program covers the MacBook and MacBook Pros for four years after purchase. Apple noted the service program doesn't extend the standard warranty of the computers. 

Here are the eligible models:

CNET's Sean Hollister contributed to this report.

First published April 9 at 2:47 p.m. PT.
Update at 3:08 p.m. PT: Adds details and comment from Apple. 

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