Hallelujah! The MacBook Air will finally get the Magic Keyboard

Commentary: For people who spend a lot of time typing, this little change is a big deal. It's the kind of good news we all need right now.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read

The MacBook Air, with the keyboard we all deserve.


It's a dark time, to say the least. All the headlines are focused on the coronavirus, and the pandemic has forced us all into a new, isolated reality. We are badly in need of some good news. 

Enter  Apple

Despite shutting down its stores around the world and telling its employees to work from home, the company on Wednesday released details on two updated products, a new MacBook Air with an upgraded keyboard, as well as an iPad Pro with trackpad support. Both offer new bells and whistles, but I want to focus in on the MacBook Air, which gets the vaunted  Magic Keyboard  that was grafted onto the 16-inch MacBook Pro in November.

Apple MacBook Air

The Magic Keyboard replaces the slimmer-profile butterfly keyboard.


I'm not trying to say that a new keyboard is going to solve the world's problems or somehow magically make COVID-19 disappear (it's definitely NOT that much of a Magic Keyboard). But given the grim setting, where bad news continues to pile on top of us, I'll take whatever good news I get. 

And Apple bringing the Magic Keyboard to the MacBook Air is certainly good news, especially if you spend a lot of time typing. When Apple introduced the Magic Keyboard on the MacBook Pro, I asked Phil Schiller, head of the company's marketing, whether it would make its way to other MacBooks. He wouldn't say at the time, and I had feared that this would be stuck as a premium feature for the Pro. 

"I can't say," he said. "We are continuing both keyboard designs."

But thankfully, Apple decided to bring the scissor-based Magic Keyboard to the masses. Well, at least anyone who can afford the $999 laptop, as opposed to the $2,400 MacBook Pro. The Magic Keyboard replaces the slimmer-profile butterfly keyboard, introduced in the 12-inch MacBook in 2015, which drew criticism for its less-than-pleasing tactile sensation and for quality-control issues that left some people frustrated by doubled or dropped letters as they typed. Apple said it's improved the keyboard, now in its third generation, and is offering a replacement program.  

For someone who spends nearly half his day on a keyboard, the Magic Keyboard is a revelation. CNET Editor Scott Stein, in his first take on the MacBook Pro keyboard, said it's not quite like the old-school MacBook keyboard but noted that it's an improvement over the butterfly.

I use a MacBook Air with a butterfly keyboard as my daily driver, and the shallow nature of the keys, which don't travel much and don't offer as much tactile feedback, continue to bother me. It doesn't help that I often use a mechanical keyboard or Apple's standalone Magic Keyboard while my Air is docked into the monitor. Going back to the butterfly keys when I'm working remotely or on the couch with just the Air is a jarring experience. I occasionally tap the keyboards on my older MacBook Air when I get nostalgic. 

Yes, I'm aware this all sounds like I'm nitpicking, and that I'm blowing out of proportion what is ultimately a minor issue. And I'm aware that others, like CNET Editor Dan Ackerman, actually enjoy the keyboard

Up close and personal with the new 16-inch MacBook Pro

See all photos

But hey, I've been stuck at home with two kids and my wife, and we've both been juggling baby care duties with full-time jobs. I need the win. 

Considering the situation, I won't be running out to get one. But knowing it's there and available gives me a modicum of comfort in these uncertain times. 

Both the new MacBook Air and iPad Pro are available to order now, and will show in stores (at least in China, where they're still open) next week.