Apple tries again with MacBook Pro keyboard design

Dolly Parton described love as “like a butterfly”, but this isn’t precisely the emotion Mac users have reported on use of the butterfly keyboard design Apple puts inside its notebooks.

When keys take wing

These keyboards have attracted much criticism since they were introduced, so much so that Apple has attempted to redesign them twice and is back with a fourth redesign in the newly-announced MacBook Pros.

In this latest edition the company says it has “changed the material” used in the butterfly mechanism. This should “substantially” reduce the issues that some users have experienced, Apple said.

The problem has been one in which tiny particles have managed to insert themselves into the butterfly mechanism, causing keyboard behaviour to become erratic and generating instances in which the keys themselves quite literally take wing and fall off.

While it claims “few” customers have been impacted by the problem, there aren’t so many ways Apple can spin these problems away, (i.e. none), but its dogged determination to deliver a version of the butterfly keyboard that works means it has also accepted the need to support customers who face problems.

This must be why we hear it will now repair the keyboard on any Mac that carries the butterfly design – including the newest models. The repair will be free, even on Macs that no longer have warranties.

What’s the buzz?

OK, so now we have free keyboard repair in the event something goes wrong, and perhaps this will be sufficient to convince pro users to pick up a post-PowerBook again – and if you ignore these Mac’s flying butterfly the new models (announced in May) offer a great deal.

They’re the fastest MacBook Pros ever:

The 15-inch models ship with 6- and 8-core Intel chips which deliver up to 5GHz (with Turbo Boost). The 8-core model is up to 40 percent faster than the previous high-end model and up to twice as fast as the quad-core.

The 13-inch variant is also no slouch, equipped as it is with quad-core chips offering up to 4.7GHz (with Turbo Boost).

They offer excellent displays:

Apple claims the Retina displays used in these latest MacBook Pros offer 500 nits of brightness and support for P3 wide color gamut and TrueTone. The 15-inch models host a Radeon Pro GPU (you can get a Radeon Pro Vega as an option) and 4GB of GDDR5 memory. The 13‑inch model uses integrated graphics and provides 128MB of embedded DRAM.

Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, Touch ID, the Touch Bar, and support for up to 32GB of memory make these Macs powerful enough for the high-end users Apple is evidently aiming for: video editors, musicians, photographers, scientists, developers and designers.

The butterfly may be fragile, but these systems buzz with performance and power.

Where next consumer Macs?

The thing is, while these new Macs seem to me to be super-powerful, look great and deliver the kind of high-end performance pro users demand, the reasons why Mac users should choose to use a Mac over and above an iPad continue to decline.

Think about it – if you are a high-end user then you’re going to need the most powerful systems you can get your hands on – and these aren’t (at present) available in tablet form.

At the same time, the tasks people look to consumer Macs to accomplish are inexorably becoming as easy to transact on iOS devices as on those Macs.

Simple photo and video editing, productivity, entertainment, social media, email – some even work better on iPad than Mac (I’m looking at you, Mail).

Apple will sell computers until the market really disappears and it is interesting to note that the company continues to hold its own even as the overall PC market shrinks. We know employees want Macs when they get a choice – look how many choose to use them at IBM.

At the same time, there’s growing recognition that iPads can replace Macs in many tasks, and I believe this means Apple will be focused on mobile devices for the rest of us and high-end Mac systems for the few who need them.

Even then, I can still recall when the launch of the fastest Apple laptop ever made would have merited a keynote speech, not a quiet press release – and yet, beyond traditional loyalty to the platform, what can’t you accomplish on a mobile device that you once managed to get done on a Mac?

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