Sam Lionheart for iFixit:
The 2018 MacBook Pro keyboard is a wealth of secrets—it just keeps surprising us. Just when we think we’ve exhausted one vein of tasty tech ore, we find something new. And today, we bring this trove to you. If you’re not excited for a deep dive, check out our keyboard teardown for a more photo-driven experience.
We started with a fine, powdered paint additive to add a bit of color and enable finer tracking (thanks for the tip, Dan!). Lo and behold, the dust is safely sequestered at the edges of the membrane, leaving the mechanism fairly sheltered. The holes in the membrane allow the keycap clips to pass through, but are covered by the cap itself, blocking dust ingress. The previous-gen butterfly keys are far less protected, and are almost immediately flooded with our glowing granules. On the 2018 keyboard, with the addition of more particulate and some aggressive typing, the dust eventually penetrates under the sheltered clips, and gets on top of the switch—so the ingress-proofing isn’t foolproof just yet. Time will tell how long the barrier will hold up.
Apple’s patent application is pretty broad, basically taking ownership of any flexible barrier under a keyboard. This implementation lacks the “bellows” function intended to blow particulate away from the mechanism; the gaps in the membrane are for keycap attachment, and to allow key presses without interference from an air cushion. Figure 2 in the patent lays out the layers we saw in our teardown, but showcases a secondary keycap layer not present in this design. What we found is closer in spirit to Figure 5, wherein the keycap clips pass through the membrane to attach to the butterfly mechanism. The membrane in its present form covers more of the central area of the switch than Figure 5 shows, and does not “couple” to either the keycap or mechanism, but lies sandwiched between them.
Okay, so why does all this matter? Apple has a proven track record of failure for these keyboards. They’re being accused, by way of several class-action lawsuits, of knowingly selling failure-prone keyboards. Apple may claim that they design products to last—and that designing for repairability compromises the durability of a device—but this keyboard misadventure belies those points. If a single grain of sand can bring a computer to a grinding halt, that’s not built to last. If said computer can only be fixed by throwing half of it away and starting over, that’s not built to last. We’re definitely excited to see improved protection on these machines—consumers deserve it with the prices they’re paying. But if Apple had designed their keyboards for longevity in the first place, instead of chasing thinness at all cost, maybe we’d be in a whole different timeline, where MacBooks are repairable, and they never canceled Firefly…