It all started when I was typing a sentence and my letter “E” popped off.
I was in the middle of writing a new post on The Rocky Safari using my 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar when mid-sentence, I pressed down on the letter “E” and the entire key came loose and flipped right onto the backside of my hand.
Sure, I was typing quickly, but it was not necessarily any more aggressively or forcefully than how I would type on any other keyboard that I have ever used before in my entire life.
When I saw with my own two eyes that the sensors and levers positioned underneath the missing key cap were now fully exposed with the “E” now resting on the backside of my hand, fear swept over me that I’d be unable to reattach it without breaking it plastic or somehow mistakenly reattaching it the wrong way. This concern was magnified by the rumors I’d already heard about how Apple’s new butterfly-mechanism keyboard is extremely difficult to repair – even for professionals.
Uhh… Can I fix this myself?
Using my iPhone, I looked up tutorials on how to re-seat Apple’s butterfly keys in case I could quickly fix this problem myself. Information on how to do this was not readily available. I tried to follow instructions from random videos and illustrations on the internet. Most of the tutorials on YouTube were explaining how to remove the keys but I needed to know how to reattach them. You might be thinking, “just do the opposite” but the issue is that I was not sure if I could assume the same process that works for removing the keys is also the proper way to install them. Reverse engineering the solution did work.
How to Attach Apple’s Butterfly-Mechanism Keys
For those who may be wondering how to attach a butterfly key to a MacBook Pro: you slide the bottom half of the key in first at a slight angle and then place the top half down flat. The key should look and feel normal now when you press it.
The Result: Repeated Key Failure
I was able to seat my “E” key back into its butterfly mechanism without doing any apparent damage to it. The butterfly key SHOULD have been positioned properly. I didn’t have to force it, it was actually quite easy to insert. Sadly, whenever I tried to press the bottom half of the “E” key, it would come loose and flip out of place again! This made me think I was doing something wrong even though I wasn’t. I inspected the key closely for any signs of damage but there was nothing wrong with any of the small hinges that I could see or tell. I guessed the mechanism itself somehow must have broken.
Being an optimist, I wasted two hours trying to insert-remove-insert-and-remove the key thinking eventually it would suddenly “just work.” (Isn’t that some Apple slogan or something?) Well, nothing I tried ever worked. The key was still failing.
I called Apple Support by phone to explain my issue in hopes of scheduling an in-store Genius Bar appointment.
After the customer support agent had me try restarting my laptop in Safe Mode 3 times with no improvement, he agreed an in-store appointment was probably my best option.
Some Background Information
I bought my 2016 MacBook Pro in November of 2016 shortly after it was released to the public. I have never done ANYTHING to mine to warrant damage to the keyboard. I am extremely cautious with my MacBook. I have never spilled anything on it. I know for certain it doesn’t have water damage. I do not eat over top of it. I keep it in a hard plastic case and within a sleeve when it is not in use. I have been a Mac user since 2010 and in all the time that has passed since then, even with my unibody mid-2010 MacBook Pro that I used for 6 years, I never once needed to remove the keys for cleaning. This occurrence was totally unexpected!
I should also state that the arrow keys on my 2016 MacBook have been flawed since the first day I bought my laptop. I never bothered to do an exchange or return because I could replicate the issue on every floor model I tested in Apple stores at the time. The arrows would not always register clicks if struck quickly. They were temperamental but still functional. I was willing to look past it if need be.
While waiting for my Genius Bar appointment which was scheduled FIVE DAYS LATER, I discovered the Apple Keyboard Service Replacement Program.
Apple’s Keyboard Service Program
My MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) was on the list of laptops QUALIFYING for keyboard repairs. What I learned through some research I did online that night was that my keyboard did NOT necessarily break due poor care or improper usage. It probably wasn’t even just a stroke of bad luck! My keyboard essentially “broke” because it is FLAWED BY DESIGN.
There was a class action lawsuit involving owners of MacBooks possessing these flawed butterfly-mechanism keyboards and the court ruled in “our” favor! Instead of Apple recalling their butterfly-keyboard laptops and admitting their mistake or CONTACTING their customers to alert them of the new Keyboard Service Program, Apple has been CHOOSING TO TAKE A BACKSEAT WITH THE ISSUE and is waiting for people who are affected to step forward and come to them. They even have the audacity to write on their website, “[only] a small percentage of the keyboards in certain MacBooks… [are affected.]” Yeah, sure…
That verbiage really rubs me the wrong way. I’ve seen people with similar complaints online. Every single 2016 MacBook Pro I have used has had the SAME problems with the arrow keys. Based on the claims across the internet, it certainly SOUNDS like a lot of people are having individual keys that are acting up. Even if someone isn’t having actual issues (as you might have believed about me and my laptop prior to the E popping off) it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t struggling with it. Maybe I was just dealing with it in silence. Had I known sooner that there was a replacement and repair program in place, I would have had my arrow keys worked on sooner! I wish Apple stepped up to the plate and sent every single one of their qualifying MacBook Pro customers an iCloud e-mail alerting them of the program.
My Genius Bar Appointment
I brought my MacBook Pro into my local Apple Store. I showed the Genius how my arrow keys did not function properly along with the broken “E.” He took the laptop into the back of the store to work on it. He asked if he could try replacing my “E” key with another one and offered to clean out the debris from my keyboard.
When he returned he told me to try the new “E” key. It worked!!! I asked him what was wrong with the other one and he said he wasn’t sure because it looked normal to him. I guess the issue will forever remain a mystery.
The Genius went on to tell me that he still recommended I do the Apple Keyboard Service Program. He explained, “I tried cleaning your keyboard but there was so much debris underneath that I think the air just pushed it all in deeper and it looks like it might give you more problems now. You can try typing on your keyboard but I think a few of the other keys have pretty much stopped working.”
I looked down in horror. What do you mean “other keys?” Using my mouse, I opened Notepad and then I began to type…
My N did not work. My Y did not work. My R did not work. My SPACE BAR DID NOT WORK. MY KEYBOARD WAS NOW EFFECTIVELY UNUSABLE! How could I possibly take home a laptop with a nonfunctional spacebar!? I’d be leaving with a laptop in worse condition than when I entered the Apple Store!
With no other option, I reluctantly agreed to send my laptop in for repairs…. I had already done a Time Machine Backup prior to my appointment so that wasn’t an issue. Still, it wasn’t an easy decision because I depend on my laptop for work. I make a living by working online both as a blogger and as an online tutor. Apple was offering to fix the keyboard for free but the repairs would take anywhere from 5 to 7 business days.
While it was presented to me as a choice, I didn’t really have a choice.
I signed the paperwork and left the Apple Store without a laptop.
The Pick-Up Process
Collecting my laptop was fairly simple. I walked into the Apple Store a week later, told the employee my name and showed a form of ID. Someone walked out with my laptop all neatly packaged in some factory packing materials.
I have to say, while the circumstances sucked, I am extremely satisfied with Apple’s Keyboard Service Program. My laptop was returned to me with a fully functional brand new keyboard along with all of my original data intact. They informed me the laptop could have been wiped for troubleshooting purposes but that was not the case with my laptop. The only thing they wiped was the screen and the glass has never looked cleaner.
Because of the way Apple builds laptops now, a repair such as this requires replacing a lot of parts. Even though it was only the keyboard that needed replacing, Apple has to replace the ENTIRE TOP CASE to do this repair.
Frequently Asked Questions
What will they replace in the apple keyboard service program?
Apple’s repair is substantial. Due to the laptop’s complicated assembly, they cannot replace the keyboard alone without extensive repairs. So what does that mean for you? It basically means you get:
- Brand New Keys
- Brand New Trackpad
- New Aluminum Top Case
- Brand New Battery !!!! (This honestly made my machine feel brand new.)
Between parts and labor, the total cost of the work is more than $700.00 per repair. This is what you or I would pay if we needed to have this same work done outside of the Program. Of course, I assume the cost to Apple is far less, especially for parts if not for labor as well.
Do you get the same keyboard in apple’s keyboard replacement program?
One of the questions I asked the Genius from Apple was, “If I replace my keyboard through this program, will the new keyboard that I get be any different? Does it solve the problem? Who is to say this won’t happen again? I want to know that my keyboard won’t fail spontaneously while I am traveling for work.”
The Genius replied, “It’s complicated. The short answer is: No, you will get the same exact keyboard. The new improved keyboard design found on the new 2018 MacBook Pro possesses a silicone membrane around each individual key to help block dirt and dust. The challenge is that the hardware is too large to fit into the frame of your laptop so using it is not an option. You will get the same style keyboard but it will be a clean one from the factory. Fortunately, should this issue happen again you can bring it right back and we will fix it again free of charge.”
(One thing that was never mentioned in this discussion is that this program is no longer valid after 4 years from the laptop’s first date of purchase.)
However, I do want to point out that I noticed one small discrepancy. Based on observation, I DID GET A DIFFERENT STYLE KEYBOARD. They removed my 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard and replaced it with a 2017 MacBook Pro keyboard. Pay special attention to the Control and Option Keys. I firmly believe this distiction was intentional and the reason why my arrow keys feel different now. I really believe ALL of the arrow keys on the 2016 model are somehow flawed right out of the box. That is why I think they are choosing to give everyone clean 2017 keys because they solve the arrow key issue (and only) that issue. I’m sure it wasn’t marketed an an official “improvement” because that would have meant Apple was admitting something was wrong with their 2016 keyboard in the first place. Dirt and dust remain an unsolved issue so the 2017 keyboard wasn’t much of an improvement in design anyway. They say that even if a SPECK OF DUST gets under a key, it can render the butterfly key mechanism useless.
Apple’s Apology Gift
Fortunately, Apple customer service does do a very good job with making customers feel valued. In the past, I wrote about what happened when Apple messed up my purchase of this laptop along with my iPhone 7 two years ago. They sent me an Apology Gift worth over $240.00. This time around, Apple sent me home with a repaired laptop and a free pair of AirPods valued at $160.00! I thought that was extremely professional and generous considering what a hassle this keyboard trouble has been.
I really think if you are having ANY problems with your keyboard, you should consider Apple’s Keyboard Service Program. Whether your keys are sticking, not registering when clicked, or repeating, a fresh FREE keyboard will do you no harm. If you have an external drive to save a back up of your data and you can spare the time away from your MacBook, I do think the repair program is worth considering. Perhaps the greatest appeal for me (besides being able to type again) was having a fresh brand new battery with 0 cycles put into my machine.
Now only time will tell how long it will be before I need another keyboard replacement installed.