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MacBook Pro Diary: A worsening keyboard issue, with no easy way to get it resolved

I haven’t had the best of times of it lately with Apple kit. I managed to leave my iPhone out in the rain – something it thankfully survived. A couple of days ago, I knocked my Apple Watch off a bathroom cabinet onto the tiled floor, badly smashing the screen. And now the sticky keyboard problem with my MacBook Pro is getting worse.

I first experienced a sticky spacebar almost a year ago. At the time, I viewed it as an embarrassing quality control failure by Apple, but thought demands for the machine to be recalled were over the top. Reader comments did, however, convince me the problem was greater than I’d appreciated …

For me, the key takeout is that the number of people who have had serious issues, and problems that re-occur, is greater than I’d appreciated. And a significant number have tried the compressed air approach without success.

Given that, and the fact that the nature of the design makes an out-of-warranty keyboard replacement extremely expensive, then yes, you’ve changed my view. It’s a more serious issue than I’d thought, and I absolutely agree that Apple should be offering free out-of-warranty replacement keyboards for those who experience the issue after their warranty expires.

Apple did indeed finally respond with a service program, and has recently apologized for the fact that a redesign intended to fix the problem doesn’t appear to have worked.

That apology was prompted by Joanna Stern – aka Joanna Stn – writing a pointed WSJ piece about the failure of her own keyboard.

There doesn’t seem to be much consistency about either the cause of the problem or the keys it affects. Some have suggested it’s food debris getting under the keycaps, while others report it’s happened to them when they never eat at their machine. One recent Medium post suggested that CPU heat could be making the plastic nubs brittle.

In my own case, I rarely eat at my machine – indeed, 95% of the time it’s off to the side of my desk while I type on an Apple Magic Keyboard 2. And yet I’ve had issues with multiple keys. Here’s the history to date …

My MacBook Pro keyboard failures

The first symptom was a sticky spacebar. It would occasionally either not register a press or would type two spaces. Compressed air fixed it, and the issue hasn’t recurred with that key.

Next up was the B key. This was very often registering a double-press, and neither of the two standard solutions – compressed air or repeatedly bashing the key hard – had any effect. That has lessened, happening now perhaps one time in 20 where it was almost every time, but is still annoyingly present.

That was followed by the P key. That behaved like the spacebar, sometimes registering nothing, sometimes two hits. Compressed air fixed that, for now at least.

And now, just a few days ago, the Command key started failing to register all presses. This, as you can imagine, is the most annoying one of all.

The problem with getting it resolved

In one way, I’m in the same position with my MacBook Pro and my Apple Watch. Both need repair, but both remain usable so it’s not something that needs to be fixed today.

However, there are two big differences between the two. With the Watch, I’m pretty sure Apple will just replace it for the fixed out-of-warranty fee. That will be financially painful, but in all likelihood I’ll walk into an Apple Store with a broken one and walk out 30 minutes later with a new one.

Even if that’s not the case, and they keep it in for repair, it’s not going to be a major issue. I’ll miss it, of course, but I’ll get on with life until I get it back.

But the MacBook Pro is another matter. I called an Apple Store, and they told me they’d need it for about five days, and that’s a much bigger deal. I tried an Authorized Apple Reseller, expecting them to be more flexible (diagnose the issue on one visit, then let me take it away and call me when they have the keyboard in so they can do the swap on a same-day basis), but nope. They too wanted it for a week.

It’s not that it’s impossible to be without it – I managed before – but it is a major hassle. I have my key work apps and bookmarks set up on my MacBook Air, but I know from that experience that there are a zillion small things that will drive me nuts in the week I’m without the machine.

That’s the reason that the only action I’ve taken so far is to put a calendar note in ahead of the expiry of the four-year replacement program. In the unlikely event that I haven’t done anything about it before then, that will at least prompt me to do so while the fix is still free.

Here’s how Apple could fix it

I get that Apple has a repair backlog. I also get that a store needs to diagnose a problem first, then order the parts, then do the swap – or send it to a repair depot, which seems to be increasingly common.

But this is a known issue, and it takes literally seconds to diagnose. It doesn’t seem asking too much that Apple keeps each store stocked with a supply of keyboards, carries out the swap in-store and allow customers to have a same-day appointment for whenever it has a slot to do so.

If Apple did that, I’d make an appointment today. As it is, I’m living with a problem that is a frequent background annoyance, Apple’s brand image taking a tiny dent in my mind every time it happens.

I’m not going to be alone in that. There will be many, many MacBook Pro owners out there slowly having their trust in the brand dented. Fixing that is surely worth the effort to implement the solution I suggest?

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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