Apple to pay $50m settlement for rotten butterfly keyboards

Diehards who replaced their keyboards can get up to $395 repeatedly

Apple’s ill-fated butterfly keyboard may be dead, but the company isn’t done paying for the pain it has caused customers.

This week, the Cupertino electronics giant agreed to pay $50 million to settle a class-action lawsuit, according to court documents released Monday [PDF]. Plaintiffs in the now four-year-old court battle alleged Apple knowingly concealed the fact that its butterfly keyboards were prone to failure and argued steps by Apple to mitigate the defect were inadequate.

The keyboard design at issue made its debut in 2015 alongside the short-lived MacBook — a 12-inch ultra portable powered by a passively cooled Intel Core-M processor. In order to accommodate a larger battery into the slim aluminum chassis, Apple introduced a new “butterfly” keyboard mechanism, which had a shallower travel than traditional scissor-switches used in prior generation MacBooks and most PC laptops.

Despite early warning signs that dust and debris could work their way into the mechanism rendering it inoperable, Apple brought the keyboard design to its mainstream MacBook Pro line a year later and the MacBook Air in 2018.

As the butterfly switch saw widespread adoption, reports of sticking or inoperable keys became commonplace. However, Apple remained silent on the issue, at one point advising customers with sticking keys to invert their notebooks and direct compressed air at the keyboard deck.

In subsequent MacBook models, Apple modified the mechanism, apparently in an attempt to mitigate failures, and eventually added a membrane around the switches, seemingly in an attempt to limit the ingress of foreign particles.

Eventually, Apple said it would replace the keyboards on affected notebooks at no cost for a period of four years after purchase, under a service program. That repair would have otherwise cost customers several hundred dollars if out of warranty.

However, as plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit pointed out, the replacement keyboards were themselves prone to failure, leading to situations in which customers had their keyboards serviced repeatedly.

In 2019, Apple began phasing out the butterfly mechanism, returning instead to a tried-and-true scissor switch.

This week’s settlement, which is subject to the judge’s approval, covers customers who bought MacBook, MacBook Air, and most MacBook Pro models between 2015 and 2019. According to court documents, customers from the following states are eligible to receive compensation: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.

Customers who replaced their keyboards on multiple occasions are expected to receive upwards of $395, while those who replaced their keyboard at least once can expect to receive $125. Meanwhile, those that replaced keycaps can expect about $50.

Meanwhile, the law firms representing the plaintiffs in this case have asked for more than $13.5 million from the $50 million settlement fund to cover legal fees, and an additional $2 million for expert witnesses.

Despite the settlement, Apple, as it has throughout the butterfly switch debacle, denied any wrongdoing, arguing that changes to its keyboard components and repair rates showed no common defect. ®

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