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MacBook Keyboard problem

660 words on

Thanks to Apple’s fantastic hardware quality I have been through two MacBooks and four MacBook ‘top cases’ (incomprehensible for the part with the keyboard, track pad and hand rest) in the past year. Because of that I don’t have enough experience with the machines to do statistics but I at least have more than a single impression

And the impression is that the MacBook keyboard isn’t just mediocre, it’s downright poorly designed. I may be a bit conservative here, but I say that a keyboard serves a sole purpose: pressing keys. Apart from the keys being easy to find and easily pressed, pressing the key should give clear feedback (mechanical and possibly audible) that the key has been pressed. This feedback needs to be reliable and occur exactly at the moment the electronics of the keyboard register the key being pressed. And in a few places the MacBook’s keyboard downright fails to do that.

Those places are two locations on the space bar. If you press the space bar by putting your finger on it at the front of the key either at the location between the ‘C’ and the ‘V’ key or at the location between the ‘N’ and the ‘M’ key, it will frequently happen that you fully press the key, that you get the mechanical feedback of the key having been pressed and that, yet, no pressed space bar is registered by the computer. In short: Shoddy design.

A video of this – after having been strangely letterboxed and pixellated by Google Video can be seen below.

Allegedly they are only hiring friggin’ geniuses at Google. And yet, they insist on converting my nice H.264 video to really crappy quality Flash stuff and to put unescaped ampersands in the string they claim to be HTML for pasting into my web page.

This isn’t a huge issue while typing because I tend to hit the space bar more in the middle then. But the space bar – apart from being the most commonly used key on the keyboard while typing – is used in many applications while not typing as well as it has become the standard keyboard equivalent for scrolling down, going to the next item and possibly selecting – i.e. for doing the next reasonable thing. When using the space bar for those purposes, say for scrolling through a long web page or going through items in an RSS reader, you are not typing. That is, your fingers will not be on the keyboard’s home row but you may just try to tap the space bar with your index finger. As you probably don’t want to fiddle around with the mouse cursor while doing that, you will try to avoid touching the trackpad. — And then you’ll pretty much automatically end up using exactly the spots on the space bar which it poor design chooses to ignore unless you hit the key hard.

I have been told that keyboards and their internal design can vary between MacBook models and even different machines of the same model as they come from different suppliers. So not all of the keyboards are affected. But the two I had in my Core2Duo MacBook certainly have this problem and it’s pretty annoying.

I’m really not that much of a Bauhaus person in terms of aesthetics. But the whole form follows function thing does resonate with me and my idea of what makes good design. In recent years Apple’s focus has often been with form first and function then. This ranges from details like the FireWire port the wrong way round on iBooks, to it even being possible that ejecting a DVD scratches it, to all the hardware problems I had which go from breaks in the plastic on the MacBook to screen hinges breaking on the titanium Powerbook. Design isn’t just about the good looks. It’s also about making things that work and that can actually be manufactured.

December 24, 2007, 9:39

Tagged as apple, apple defect, broken, macbook.

Comments

Comment by azdeveloper: User icon

Yep - the flat Macbook keyboard SUCKS. I bought one for my gf 2 weeks ago and she’s been complaining ever since! It’s the “A” and the “P” that are giving her the most problems.. they just don’t register unless you press real hard right in the middle. Going to the apple store this week to replace.

December 24, 2007, 18:29

Comment by Nerg: User icon

Now you mention it, I’ve seen the same thing with the space bar, firm accurate keying is the answer, but the T-book never had that problem. I have quite a sensitive touch and now I feel that I’m bashing the keys on my black MacBook.

Why is though that the CD/DVD ejects to the right hand side in stead of at the front on MacBook? I nearly always have a mouse attached and it’s a pain.

December 25, 2007, 9:17

Comment by ssp: User icon

Unfortunately I don’t think ‘firm accurate’ keying is the answer as the keyboard simply fails to register a keypress when the key has been fully pressed in the ‘wrong’ place. And in the situation I describe for scrolling down I rarely find it desirable or even easy to hit the key hard, particularly if you are doing that dozens of times in a row.

As for the DVD drive, I think it may have to do with the weight distribution in the machine. You have to distribute the battery, hard drive, main board and DVD drive in the case. And you’ll want the heavy stuff at the front so the machine’s balance is better when the screen is open which will only allow very few ways to arrange things. I am tempted to think that the existing way to arrange things may just be the best one.

December 25, 2007, 14:11

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Hey, just got my “late 2006” MacBook’s topcase replaced after, you guessed it, the case cracked towards the forward edge. I also had my dead USB ports fixed. I haven’t managed to decode the repair sheet yet but I believe they replaced the whole motherboard. Yikes.

January 2, 2008, 21:48

Comment by Lotus: User icon

My main problem typing with the macbook pro is that whenever I enter a new data field (like name, or email, or a google search, or an address book) there is a high chance of it missing my very first letter. This problem was mentioned on a wiki about the macbook too, sounds like it is widespread but I have found no info yet on if it is fixable.

January 3, 2008, 21:48

Comment by J: User icon

A big problem is this new design. I just don’t learn to type correctly since my fingers keep slipping in to the gaps between keys. Powerbook keyboards were a lot better… This sucks!

January 5, 2008, 15:44

Comment by disappointed: User icon

I just got my MacBook 3 weeks ago. I noticed right off that the Y-key did not work a good part of the time. Some of the other keys also had a problem with not responding when depressed. I am very disappointed, especially after reading the reviews by C-Net. To top things off, I upgraded to a 250-GB HD, and 2-gig of RAM so that I could split the drive and run MAC and Vista. Now my AC quit working. I’ve had seven laptops. This has been my worst. I thought my Toshiba would have been much worse, but in fact, it is what I am currently using since you have to book an appointment to have someone look at an Apple…. Disappointed in GA….

January 13, 2008, 4:08

Comment by Alan Longhurst: User icon

I am using a new 13” MacBook with a French-Canadian keyboard and have all the same problems. I use the machine pretty much only for writing and its a real pain having to check each sentence you write to re-insert the letters that did not register. Unless you hit each key dead centre, there is a good chance it wont register. The flat, not bowl-shaped surface gives your fingers no tactile clue as to where the keys are located in space. Some keys are worse than others. My space bar seems to work OK wherever I hit it.

The MacBook keyboard is a real pain after my 12” G4 PowerBook which was great and never gave me anything of the same problems.

Alan

January 29, 2008, 21:01

Comment by Carlos Sicilia: User icon

It’s true. I’ve got the same keyboard trouble with my two weeks old white MacBook. This keyboard really feels clumsy, weak, unstable, and all that. But, since this is my first Mac ever, I should tell you: I DON’T CARE. I’m so happy because I escaped from Windows Vista! Yes! I wanted a new laptop (here in Caracas, Venezuela) and EVERY store only has new laptops with Windows Vista. No XP. So, I decided to buy my firts Mac, and here I am. Yes. The keyboard is a piece of bad equipment, really. And there is NO SOLUTION in sight. It’s a really HORRIBLE keyboard, period. (My solution? Just hit it hard, hard hard, instead of easy or soft. It seems to increase the accuracy, but it strains my arms a bit). Good luck to everybody here and best regards from Caracas, Venezuela.

January 31, 2008, 18:58

Comment by Anonymous: User icon

I have a MacBook PRo, 18 months old. Just after the 12 months was up…(no extended warranty..yuk)..the m, J,u, seven numeral, colon, semi colon, coma, and double quotation decided to work only totally randomly and more not at all than sometimes. If you are wondering how I am managing here its because I have to cut and paste the missing letters from text on the site! Any answers anyone or do I need to buy a new keyboard? Rodney..in NZ

February 6, 2008, 2:08

Comment by Del: User icon

Same issues - I bought my first macbook in 2006, the Keyboard was just fine. Due to the broken-off front edge my top case was replaced a few months ago, still got a nice sensitive keyboard. Last month got a new macbook and the keyboard is really crap, I have to hit all keys with an elemental force to be 100% sure what I type will really appear on the screen. (I have an old habit - I watch the keyboard as I type - not the screen. This is the first keyboard I have problem with.) Del from Cologne, Germany

February 14, 2008, 19:48

Comment by Andro: User icon

Same here. Just got a new white Macbook for work with 2 GB so it could run Leopard stably—and the J key and delete keys have to be banged to register. Really annoying, especially if you are a writer or programmer.

February 15, 2008, 15:44

Comment by smiley: User icon

As I professional writer who just switched from Windows to a new 13” Macbook, I’m going crazy with the keyboard. I’ve been writing on computers for more than 10 years for a living, and now suddenly I’m getting so many typos from the keyboard failing to respond to my hitting the keys. I hope they can put out a patch for this.

February 19, 2008, 18:54

Comment by JS: User icon

When i bought my macbook one week ago i was used to the really perfekt keyboard of the ibook. But now i have the same problems that all of you described here - even typing this small comment makes me goin crazy since i have to check almost every word for typos… its a mess; JS from Saarbrücken, Germany

February 26, 2008, 23:59

Comment by Juan Bautista: User icon

After read a lot of about it, i have the same problem with de right arrow key, so … what can we do? what´s the solution?

Thanks to all.

March 6, 2008, 16:40

Comment by Anna: User icon

I bought my 13” MacBook a few months ago and I have also been having trouble with the keys registering. I am constantly going back to insert letters that don’t register. It seems that the letter “I” misses whenever I type it and I have to really strike it hard to get it to work. It is hard on the fingers and eyes. I hope Apple does something about it soon. Is it any good to complain to them?

Anna

March 11, 2008, 5:16

Comment by disappointed: User icon

I totally agree with your experiences. I am the disappointed owner of a macbook. It somehow sucks more then my powerbook (only lasted a year). they keyboard is what pisses me off the most. it simply doesn’t work. missed strokes, you have to beat the hell out of it. I have really grown to hate apple. Their stuff has gotten worse every year for the last 5 years at least. cheap junk that costs a tonne.

March 26, 2008, 14:09

Comment by vegaz: User icon

hi, I bought my first Macbook 1 month ago and it came with a crappy dot (“.”) key, which worked erratically. I sent it back to Apple and got a replacement, with a similar problem the right arrow key. I have somewhat reduced the problem popping out the key and putting some small layers of adhesive tape under it. Though not perfect, it seems to be working better now. Too bad that it has such a weak keyboard, because otherwise the Macbook is really an excellent machine. Bye from a former Georgia Augusta (Erasmus) student

March 26, 2008, 22:25

Comment by gracie: User icon

I found your page after googling for this exact problem. My letter A key misfires more than any other, but also the space bar and P and ’ keys seem to suck. I called Apple Care and they are exchanging the whole computer. If you are having this problem, insist on an exchange.

March 29, 2008, 9:56

Comment by Ida: User icon

Oh my gosh, I thought I was the only one going through this and that I had lost my typing ability. Just by writing this, I’ve had to backspace a lot! They should recall all macbooks sold and save us from this wretched keyboard nonsense.

April 5, 2008, 22:13

Comment by tinou: User icon

same problem, except with the delete key. looks like i’ll have to return my macbook as well.

June 2, 2008, 3:41

Comment by Deathyak: User icon

hahaha well yes I have to agree that the macbook keyboard isn’t the best, I can’t complain about it.

The previous laptop we had had the arrow keys SO close to all the other keys, I would hit them deleting, using enter, or putting in punctuation.

Still the cracking plastic is bugging me.

and what i really find funny is that most places like youtube actually use flash videos that contain h.264!

August 23, 2008, 8:56

Comment by ric benzing: User icon

My problem is the ‘y’ key. It seems to make my cursor jump all over in my already typed text. Then, the other night, it ‘highlighted’ all of the text in the row I was typing.

Can something be done?

September 12, 2008, 2:32

Comment by jono: User icon

On a two year-old Black Macbook I have now had three, yes three, keyboards replaced - primarily with the cursor click buttons losing crispness and starting to grate. (I have Mac Apple Care and so far, have been replaced FOC - but still a pain to go through. I could imagine the problem is how I use it, but this has not happened to me with any previous models - and I’ve owned a number. Anyone else with the same problem?

September 15, 2008, 13:09

Comment by daniel: User icon

Wow, I googled macbook and y.key to find this place. My y key jumps around as well. Sounds like a design flaw to me.. I’m extremely disappointed. I’ll be going to the store to have them fix this but I won’t be surprised to see it happen again.

September 18, 2008, 16:47

Comment by Austin : User icon

my spacebar stopped working and I took it off to find the little rubber cushion is detached from the base, do you think it’s safe to glue back in place.

September 28, 2008, 1:59

Comment by chris: User icon

MacBook Spacebar only works when I press the option key I think I may have upset it when I tried to set up ‘Spaces’ (how ironic) on the Leopard OS Any one had this??? Thanks for any HELP!!!

October 7, 2008, 16:34

Comment by Kevin: User icon

Try this: buy the Apple bluetooth wireless keyboard - its tiny and sits perfectly on top of a macbook’s normal keyboard - even at a better angle I think _ I’m using one now! My Macbook keyboard had olive oil spilled on it, when the thing heats up the oil starts to spread and various keys become completely unusable! I’ve had it looked at but its basically unrepairable beacause the oil has spread, although strangely it doesnt effect any other part of the operation. But this solution works great…

March 25, 2009, 16:46

Comment by Hansel Delos Santos: User icon

It was I rabish! After 2 months of purchasing my aluminum macbook in Muscat last Feb 09. I hardly found pressing the key “L” on my keyboard. Now its all gone, I feel anoying when I need to type “L”, I have to enable the keyboard view just to type “L” - It was suck! Most of the time it keeps typing by him self (“L” Key) even I bought an external USB keyboard on it. So now what should I do? My warranty will last on Feb 2010.

December 12, 2009, 9:12

Comment by ssp: User icon

@Hansel Delos Santos:
If your L-key is reproducibly not working, call AppleCare or take the MacBook back to the store while it’s in warranty. For such a significant problem I’m fairly sure they’ll fix it as part of the warranty.

December 12, 2009, 12:57

Comment by Curt D: User icon

I am also having problems with my keyboard. The Y key the period key the u key and others. The curser jumps around. words are highlighted and then dissapear. right now the y key takes me to the top of the browser page on this safari page. Its been shut off and turned on. still happening. 13” white macbook running newest os with all updates. I can’t type anything now. I have to sit and wait for a few seconds to see if it is going to happen after typing certain letters. sometimes putting a space in instead keeps things from going whacky and then I go back and remove the spaces later. seems like lots of people have experienced this but no solutions are mentioned anywhere.

April 7, 2010, 19:44

Comment by barutan seijin: User icon

The delete, quote, and right shift keys on my Macbook suddenly stopped working a couple days ago. this machine is 2 years old and has the typical case detoriation along its edges. I suspect that that is the root cause of my disappearing keys. I miss my old thinkpads. would have to think long and hard about getting another crumbly Mac.

April 28, 2010, 20:44

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