It was with great fanfare in 2015 that Apple announced that certain MacBook models would ship with redesigned keys, so-called “butterfly” keys, designed to fit in the laptops’ shallower cases. Replacing the traditional scissor-based switches with a new “butterfly” mechanism, the company boasted that it shaved off 40% thickness per key. But problems emerged. In real-world usage, the butterfly keyboards proved prone to stickiness and general unresponsiveness, and could be damaged with even tiny amounts of dust or crumbs.
Apple launched an improved keyboard design on late-2019 MacBooks, but not before customers filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Jose alleging that the company knew — and concealed — the fact that its butterfly keys were prone to failure. Ending the saga, Apple today agreed to pay $50 million to settle the case without admitting wrongdoing, according to a Reuters filing.
If the preliminary deal is approved, lawyers for the customers expect maximum payouts of $300 to $395 to people who replaced multiple keyboards, $125 to people who replaced one keyboard, and $50 to those who replaced key caps, CNBC reports. Law firms Girard Sharp LLP and Chimicles Schwartz Kriner and Donaldson-Smith LLP can claim up to $15 million from the $50 million windfall to cover legal fees.
The settlement covers customers who bought MacBook, MacBook Air, and most MacBook Pro models between 2015 and 2019 in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.
In the years following the butterfly keyboards’ release, Apple offered suggestions on ways to clean clogged keys and launched a service program for owners whose keys had become damaged by debris. The company made relatively few design changes to the mechanism between 2015 and 2019, save adding a membrane, which Apple billed as a way to make the keys quieter but not necessarily improve their reliability.
According to service data compiled by AppleInsider, the first generation of butterfly keys on MacBook Pro models were twice as likely to fail within the first year compared to the old scissor-based key design.
Apple extended four years of free key repairs to customers who bought MacBooks with butterfly keys. But as the lawsuit notes, the company often provided replacement keyboards with the same problems.