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Apple MacBook butterfly keyboards 'defective', 'prone to fail' – lawsuit

Dust disables costly kit and repairs are EXPENSIVE

Two Apple customers, fed up with the keyboards used in recent model MacBook notebooks, filed a lawsuit against the company on Friday in a San Jose, Calif, federal court.

Plaintiffs Zixuan Rao, of San Diego, Calif, and Kyle Barbaro, of Melrose, Mass, alleging that Apple's model year 2015 or later MacBooks and model year 2016 or later MacBook Pros are defective.

Claims to this effect have surfaced periodically over the past two years, sustained in part by the scoldings of well-regarded Apple developers and bloggers who characterize MacBook keyboards as shoddy.

Earlier this month, the discontent coalesced from serial anecdotes into a petition. It has attracted over 21,000 signatures since it was launched.

The lawsuit (PDF) further formalizes the dissatisfaction and should force Apple to respond to the issue beyond its oblique acknowledgement: A support page that provides guidance on how to clean recent MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards in the event the keys become unresponsive.

"The MacBook suffers from a latent defect," the complaint stated. "Though it appears to function normally when new, the MacBook has a defective keyboard. As numerous online consumer complaints describe, not long after consumers purchase the MacBook, their keyboard begins to suffer from a host of problems including keys sticking, keystrokes failing to register, keys typing a letter or command multiple times even though it was struck only once, and keys simply not working at all."

The court filing points to the petition and to a litany of gripes about the keyboard harvested from online discussion forums as evidence of the keyboard's failings.

The Register has asked Apple to comment on the lawsuit. We've not heard back.

The complaint, which seeks $5m in damages under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and recognition as a class action, recounted the keyboard failures experienced by the two plaintiffs.

Rao bought a 15.4" MacBook Pro in January, 2018, and a month later the notebook's "B" key became unresponsive. He tried to troubleshoot it, as Apple advises, but to no avail. He ended up having to purchase an external keyboard to use with his laptop.

Barbaro, meanwhile, bought his MacBook Pro in November, 2016, and its space key and caps lock became unresponsive in July, 2017. He took the computer in to be repaired and after a week got it back. The problem re-occurred in December, 2017. But by then the device was out of warranty and the cost for a repair was $700.

As described in the lawsuit, Apple replaced its "scissors" keyboard switch with a "butterfly" mechanism in 2015, and revised the design in 2016.

The lawsuit has contended these butterfly switches are particularly susceptible to dust, which can prevent keystrokes from registering. And it claimed that Apple, though aware of customer complaints, has failed to alert customers about the issue.

"Despite awareness of the defect, Apple touted – and continues to tout – the MacBook as having a superior and highly responsive keyboard, with 'four times more key stability than a traditional scissor mechanism'," the complaint stated. "Apple’s representations regarding the MacBook’s keyboard were false."

The last major Apple warranty-related case involved a $53m payment arising from the company's failure to recognize iPhone and iPod warranties due to its Liquid Damage Policy.

The company, something of a lawsuit magnet because of its deep pockets, is currently contending with a flurry of legal challenges arising from its undisclosed iPhone battery throttling. ®

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