By replacing the traditional single-key operating mechanism, the company boasted that it reduced the thickness by 40% per key. But problems arose along the way. In actual use, the new keyboards proved prone to sticking and generally unresponsive and could be damaged by even tiny amounts of dust or crumbs.
Apple belatedly launched an improved keyboard design on the latest 2019 MacBooks, but not before customers filed a class action lawsuit in the US District Court of Northern California in San Jose, alleging that the company knew - and concealed - the fact that the MacBook keyboard's "butterfly" mechanism was prone to failure. As a result, Apple today agreed to pay $50 million to settle the case without admitting any wrongdoing, according to a report by Reuters.
If the preliminary agreement is approved, lawyers for the customers who filed the lawsuit expect maximum damages of $300 to $395 to those who replaced multiple keyboards, $125 to those who replaced one keyboard and $50 to those who replaced the keycaps, CNBC reports. Law firms Girard Sharp LLP and Chimicles Schwartz Kriner and Donaldson-Smith LLP can claim up to $15 million of the $50 million to cover legal fees.
The court agreement covers customers who purchased a MacBook, MacBook Air and most MacBook Pro models released between 2015 and 2019 in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C.
In the years following the release of these keyboards, Apple published suggestions for ways to clean clogged keys and launched a service program for owners whose keys had been damaged by various external factors. The company made few design changes to the key mechanism between 2015 and 2019, except for the addition of a membrane, which Apple billed as a way to make the keys quieter, but not necessarily to improve their reliability.
According to service data compiled by AppleInsider, the first generation of the "butterfly" keyboard on MacBook Pro models was twice as likely to fail within the first year compared to the old keyboard design released by Apple and other manufacturers. Apple extended for four years free keyboard repairs to customers who purchased MacBooks with butterfly keys. But as the lawsuit notes, the company often used, as replacement parts, keyboards with the exact same problem.