Is your MacBook keyboard not working as expected? Are some keys sticking or not working at all? You’re laptop probably has a pesky butterfly keyboard inside. Luckily, there’s a hardware fix that will cost you nothing. Better still, because of how Apple has designed its MacBooks, other hardware gets replaced simultaneously. Here’s how to replace your MacBook keyboard through an Apple service program for MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.
What’s the Issue?
Beginning in mid-2020, I began noticing problems with the keyboard on my 2018 MacBook Pro. Gradually, these hiccups took different forms from letters and characters repeating unexpectedly or not appearing while typing. The word “sticky” came to mind when describing the problem.
Working in technology, I knew immediately what was causing these typing problems: the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keyboard.
First introduced with the 12-inch MacBook in early 2015, the butterfly keyboard replaced the previous models’ traditional scissor mechanism. Built from a single assembly supported by a stainless-steel dome switch, this butterfly mechanism was supposed to bring more stability and accuracy to typing, according to Apple’s Phil Schiller.
Of the butterfly mechanism, he explained during the reveal, “And that all adds up to a key that is much more precise and accurate. In fact, it’s four times more stable than that scissor mechanism … Yet it is 40% thinner, allowing us to make a thinner keyboard.”
The butterfly mechanism was found in every Apple laptop produced between 2015 and much of 2019. Though minor design changes were made throughout, the central problem (sticky keys) remained and were experienced by many users. Though Apple never admitted any wrong, it did implement a keyboard service program for those affected. And, beginning with the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro, a familiar scissor mechanism returned on keyboards on new laptops with the butterfly keyboard no more. The new keyboard is nearly identical to Apple’s wireless Magic Keyboard and provides more travel than the discontinued mechanism.
Replace Your MacBook Keyboard Service Program
At the time of this writing, Apple’s Keyboard Service Program covers the following laptops:
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2015)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2016)
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, 2017)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2019)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2016)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2017)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)
To determine whether your laptop qualifies, choose the Apple menu at the top left of your device. From there, select About This Mac to see which MacBook you own.
There are three ways to get a keyboard replacement. You can:
- Find an Apple Authorized Service Provider.
- Make an appointment at an Apple Retail Store.
- Mail-in your device to the Apple Repair Center.
Typically when I have a hardware problem with an Apple product, I head to the nearest retail store. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option for me because of COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time. Instead, in early January, I communicated with Apple Support online. After quick questions and answers back and forth through text, the Apple representative determined that my laptop qualified for the program. Overnight, they send me a box to ship my laptop for repair. The box, designed to protect your investment during transport, included a next-day return label, which was definitely a nice touch.
The Apple representative said the turn-around time for keyboard replacements usually took 1-2 business days. Even with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I found this to be the case. As part of the process, Apple sends out emails indicating when work begins and ends on the laptop. In my case, the emails were separated by only a few hours.
Beginning to end, the laptop was out of my possession for three days, which I found impressive, given it traveled between Pennsylvania and Texas.
More Than the Keyboard
The way Apple has designed most of its products in recent years has made it nearly impossible to do at-home repairs. In this case, the MacBook’s complicated assembly actually benefits users who take advance of the keyboard service program.
When Apple replaces the keyboard on your MacBook, it must also replace the battery, aluminum top case, and trackpad. As someone who uses his laptop for 10-12 hours per day, I appreciated seeing a zero cycle battery count. My machine even felt snapper because of it!
The Fine Print
Apple’s Keyboard Service Program for MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro really works well. However, it does contain some language that’s important to know. First, Apple notes, “If your MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro has any damage which impairs the service, that issue will need to be repaired first. In some cases, there may be a cost associated with the repair.”
Second, the program only covers eligible MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro models for four years after the unit’s first retail sale.
Replace Your MacBook Keyboard: My Advice
Without a service program or AppleCare+ plan, it’s costly to replace Apple products’ hardware. In this case, Apple’s offering free service. If you have one of the laptops mentioned above and detect even minor problems with its keyboard, contact Apple Support. Please do it now before the program runs its course. Otherwise, those sticky keys could cost you a lot of money.