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Macs: Butterfly vs. Scissors Keyboards

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Pearl Zhou
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| 2 months ago

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Apple's scissors and butterfly keyboards. Butterfly, scissor, keyboards, Apple? Are these codewords to enter a top-secret Apple technology society? Unfortunately, not.

What these words indicate are the types of keyboards Apple offers on their Mac devices.

If you are searching for an answer to the difference between butterfly and scissors keyboards, we collected all the answers for you in this article.

Continue reading to learn more about Apple’s keyboards and why they were controversial.

What are Butterfly and Scissors Keyboards?

There are lots to unpack here. Why are some keyboards called scissors and why are some butterflies? Here’s a crash course on everything you need to know about these two keyboard variants.

“Scissor” and “butterfly” keys refer to the mechanism beneath each keycap. The physical mechanism registers a keypress—which is how all keyboards function.

What is a Scissor Switch Keyboard

The scissor-switch keyboard is a common and popular type of keyboard that has been around since the 1980s. When you press down on a scissor-switch key, its two “X” crossed pieces of plastic fold down, just like how scissors cross when you open and close them.

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The traditional scissor-switch keyboard usually “travels” 2 mm. whenever a key is pressed. From what we were able to gather, Apple MacBooks and Keyboards have used the scissor-switch mechanism for almost two decades.

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What is a Butterfly Keyboard

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Up until late 2015, Apple introduced the first updated keyboards for its 12-inch MacBook Pro laptops.

Along with the fourth generation MacBooks, they debuted a new “butterfly” keyboard. Apple slated this keyboard as 34% thinner and four times more stable than previous MacBook scissor keyboards.

The MacBook butterfly keyboard was an Apple invention that was intentionally shallow and had an even tinier “travel” distance. Instead of the traditional “X” formation under the key, Apple created a four-piece key instead.

What Are The Differences?

Here comes the controversy. Despite Apple’s good intentions to design thinner MacBooks, their innovation completely misfired.

There were two critical differences between the traditional scissor keyboard and the new MacBook butterfly keyboard. The contrasting differences are as follows:

  • Butterfly keys had little to zero “travel” between keys compared to the previous 2mm scissor keys.
  • Dust, debris, or crumbs would get lodged underneath the butterfly keys, making the keys unresponsive or completely stuck.

These two differences lead to widespread complaints from Apple users and consumers. Although the scissor keyboard also had a small gap between the keys, which lead to dust or crumbs getting under the keys, it was still possible to shake debris out of the scissor keyboard.

However, it was practically impossible for the thin, shallow butterfly keyboard to remove or shake the dust out from under the key. Users would end up pressing on keys with more force to get a response.

Moreover, some users complained that it felt like they were typing onto a solid surface with the butterfly keyboard.

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So, it seems that Apple misjudged its user’s preference for a traditional typing experience versus a futurist, slimmer device.

Here’s a fun “butterfly vs. scissors keyboard” demonstration from PC Mag.

Which MacBooks Have a Butterfly Keyboard?

The following MacBook models have a butterfly keyboard.

Model Year
MacBook (Retina 12-inch) Early 2016, 2017
MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch) 2018, 2019
MacBook Pro (13­-inch, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports) 2016, 2018, 2019
MacBook Pro (13­-inch, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
MacBook Pro (15-­inch) 2016, 2017, 2019

Suppose you had difficulties typing on your MacBook butterfly keyboard. In that case, Apple has a Keyboard Service Program that will service your butterfly keyboard free of charge.

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To qualify for the program and service, you need to check that your butterfly keys exhibit at least one or more of the following:

  • Letters or characters repeat unexpectedly.
  • Letters or characters do not appear.
  • Key(s) feel "sticky" or do not respond consistently.

Suppose your butterfly keys do qualify for a free-of-charge repair. In that case, a technician may replace one, several, or the entire MacBook butterfly keyboard.

Get your MacBook butterfly keyboard examined through an Apple Authorized Service Provider, at an official Apple Retail Store or mail in your device to the Apple Repair Center.

Which Keyboard is Best For You?

Despite so many consumer complaints about the MacBook butterfly keyboard, it’s still an efficient keyboard that gets the job done—make sure not to eat when you’re typing.

If you’re looking for a slim keyboard that feels like you’re not pressing down on the keys, the butterfly keyboard might work for you.

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Although Apple doesn’t actively sell old MacBook models, you can still purchase refurbished MacBooks on the official Apple website. You may be able to grab a 2019-MacBook Pro model with the butterfly keyboard.

If you like the classic “click-clack” keyboard, you’ll have to get the latest MacBook Pro 2020 or the 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro.

However, if you’re looking for a laptop that does simple tasks to browse the internet and create a few documents, look for a good condition or refurbished early to mid-2015 MacBook Pro with a Retina display. It’s arguably one of the best MacBook laptops Apple has historically released.

Implementing the butterfly keyboard was a significant design and engineering blunder by Apple. Luckily for MacBook fans, Apple finally got rid of the butterfly keyboard and replaced it with the “Magic Keyboard” for all upcoming Mac devices. The new Apple keyboard is a well-beloved scissor-switch keyboard.

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As it goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Products Covered

allapplenews-product-MacBook Air
Model
MacBook Air
Release Date
November 2020

Features

• 256GB / 512GB
• 13.3" LED-Backlit Retina Display with IPS Technology
• Apple M1 chip
• Backlit Magic Keyboard and Touch ID Sensor
• Up to 18 Hours Video Playback
• 8GB / 16GB unified Memory

Description

Apple Silicon is finally here! The 2020 MacBook Air is built around the all-new M1 processing chip. The first-ever ARM-based Apple-exclusive chip features an 8-core CPU with four perform­ance cores, four efficiency cores, 7-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. All these upgrades make up the most powerful MacBook Air ever. The latest silent, fanless design boasts up to 16 hours of battery life.

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