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About That Keyboard

I managed to get my fingers on one of the new MacBook Pro 16-inch laptops at an Apple Store yesterday. As someone who actually likes the butterfly keyboard that preceded it, I thought I’d share my perspective. I know I’m not alone in worrying this new keyboard would be a step backward for me, despite being absolutely the right move for the company.

Obviously this is a very short first impression, obtained at those ridiculous Apple Store tables that seem to be the worst possible height for typing while standing. So I’ll clearly need more time to make a final judgement. But it didn’t take long to at least know that this is indeed a bit of a step backwards—in terms of feel—for me.

The best way I can describe the new keyboard is if you drew a line with the butterfly keyboard on one side and the wireless Magic Keyboard on the other, this new MacBook Pro keyboard would fall closer to the Magic Keyboard in feel than the butterfly. No surprise, then, people who hated the butterfly are dancing in the streets.

It’s not completely Magic Keyboard in feel, though. It does manage to avoid the sponginess of the Magic. The keys do feel much more precise. Press down from an off-center position, and the whole key does seem to fire pretty evenly. Not quite as good as the butterfly, but better than the Magic, for sure. That’s quite an engineering feat in a scissor switch.

It’s not a bad keyboard, by any stretch of the imagination. And it certainly tramples the old keyboard on the 2015 and prior models. But the extra travel makes me feel like I’m working harder than I should have to when I type. And the extra space between the keys looks and feels cheaper and older to me. My guess is most people looking at this machine side-by-side with one of the current 13-inch models would say the 13-inch is the newer model.

But looks aren’t everything, of course. I’m just gaining a new appreciation for the reasoning behind the butterfly’s aesthetic.

I have never had an issue with the virtual escape key, but since TouchBar doesn’t lose any functionality by bringing back the real key, I’m happy to see the real key return. Combine that with the space now between the edge of TouchBar and the power button, and it has a nice symmetry to it. No complaints about what’s going on at the top of this keyboard.

The inverted-T arrow keys, do, indeed, look old and janky compared to the full-sized keys on the butterfly. (I never thought it was that big a difference until looking at the two side-by-side again yesterday.) But this is a case where function over form is absolutely the right move. I’m thrilled to see the inverted-T back.

So increased travel, slightly less precision, and poorer looks, balanced against the return of inverted-T arrow keys and the assumption of better reliability. (I know that’s a big assumption. But everyone else seems to be giving Apple the benefit of the doubt on this, so I will, too.)

Overall, I think Apple made the right move. But there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll like the keyboard on my next MacBook Pro a little less.

But probably only a little.