Apple redesigns keyboard in new MacBook Pro update and promises quick repairs on sticky keys

Responding to customer complaints, Apple makes changes to the butterfly switch keyboard in its laptops -- including new 2019 MacBook Pro models.

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
3 min read

Apple has faced criticism over its laptop keyboard design. 

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Good news, MacBook users. Apple will replace all butterfly switch keyboards for free -- even on its new MacBook Pro models unveiled Tuesday. 

The company on Tuesday said it has extended its MacBook keyboard replacement program, which repairs the keyboard that first appeared in the 2015 MacBook. Users have complained about sticky keys, as well as letters typing in duplicate or not typing at all. 

Apple also said it has changed the material used in its butterfly switch keyboards to avoid the problem of letters double-typing. It declined to provide details about the materials. And it said keyboard repairs will happen faster than before.

Watch this: Apple will replace faulty MacBook keyboards

Apple rolled out its butterfly switch design starting with its computer revamp in 2015. The redesign was part of an effort to make laptops 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 said they 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 wasn't cheap. Some said the out-of-warranty fix could set them back $700.

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

Butterfly switch problems

A year ago, Apple said it would replace "a small percentage of the keyboards in certain MacBook and MacBook Pro models" whose letters or characters repeated unexpectedly, whose letters or characters didn't appear, or whose keys felt "sticky" or didn't respond consistently. That program covered MacBooks released from 2015 to 2017. 

Apple has redesigned the original butterfly switch keyboard since its first iteration, and the third generation of the keyboard was meant to resolve issues. But users -- including high-profile reviewers at publications like The Wall Street Journal -- have continued to experience problems.

In March, Apple apologized and said it was "aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third generation butterfly keyboard." It added that "the vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience."

Still, Apple's move to extend its keyboard replacement program to all MacBooks with the butterfly switch shows just how much a bad reputation could impact its MacBook sales. By guaranteeing all butterfly switch keyboards sold since 2015, Apple's giving users peace of mind. If your keyboard fails, you can get it repaired for free. As with the original program announced last year, keyboards can be repaired or replaced for four years after purchase.

Watch this: Does the MacBook keyboard get a bum rap?

Apple on Tuesday also said it has sped up the time it takes for a keyboard to be repaired. It didn't give details on the length of time because that will vary based on a variety of factors. But Apple Stores will prioritize keyboard replacements. 

The company also is deploying its new keyboard to Apple Stores to be used in repairs. That means if the keyboard on your 2018 MacBook Air fails, you could end up with the new design. 

2019 MacBook Pro updates

Along with announcing updates to its keyboard, Apple on Tuesday unveiled a slight update to its MacBook Pro lineup. The 15- and 13-inch computers will roll out with Intel's faster eighth- and ninth-generation Core processors , including an eight-core variant, the first time such a powerful processor has appeared in Apple's MacBook Pro. 

The 15-inch MacBook Pro features faster six- and eight-core Intel Core processors, delivering Turbo Boost speeds up to 5.0 GHz, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar features faster quad-core processors with Turbo Boost speeds up to 4.7 GHz.

The 2019 MacBook Pro delivers two times faster performance than a quad-core MacBook Pro and 40 percent better  performance than a six-core MacBook Pro, making it Apple's fastest laptop.

CNET's Dan Ackerman contributed to this report.