At their October event Apple unveiled huge improvements to the ‘pro’ line up of laptops. Moving the whole line over to their own silicone, adding in more ports and silently whispering an apology. Despite more than 5 years meddling with them, adding in needless features as well overcomplicating and compromising their laptops — they are done with meddling with keyboards. How long this will last, who knows, but the simple (all be it silent) admission that can be read between the lines, is that they were wrong in almost all areas. The constant march towards thinner and thinner devices simply does not work with laptops.
In order to slim down their laptop line in the last few years Apple, understandably, made quite a few decisions that were at detriment to its users. Battery life suffered. Connectivity needed by many of its users was removed and replaced by dongles, but most damaging was the compromise to the working of the laptop. The butterfly keyboard is perhaps one of the most damming decisions Apple has ever made about its computers. I was one of the lucky ones that wasn’t affected at all through my usage of them, yet still queued up to pick up my 2020 version once they returned to more traditional scissor switches.
As someone that types out thousands of words a day, I do have some opinions on these keyboards but this post isn’t really about them. It’s more about the way companies view the keyboards themselves. They have improved slightly over the years, but remained pretty mush as they were decades ago. A bit like the mouse, you can mess around with some things, add in buttons or make using it easier to use, but you cant change the way they work. The touch points are the most important area of a computer, and like handle bars on a bike, need to feel good and work well.
Who knows if Apple saw the future of typing on their computers as being as close to glass as possible, but that’s not a future I want to be a part of. The butterfly keyboards I used were fine, you get used to them in the end (unless yours breaks) but as soon as you return to something using scissor switches you realise who bad they are. Nothing beats good key travel and a nice tactile feel — there are whole industries built around it worth more than $1billion.
I can forgive the Touchbar (also now removed) as a gimmick that Apple thought would become more useful. It didn’t hurt the keyboard, apart from needing more concentration to use than it should do, but messing around with the keyboard itself gets much more of a reaction. The company is now aware that is customers like full-Sized, tactile keys but I am not sure why it took 5 years to work it out. Perhaps now they will stop messing around with the keyboard and continue to build thicker, more capable laptops that have what their customers need.