My Broken Keyboard Saga

I own a 2016 MacBook Pro with Apple’s famous(ly unreliable) butterfly keyboard. It’s fine to type on but is prone to failure, so much that I bought an extended warranty just to deal with it. Apple eventually opened a free repair keyboard program to repair them outside of warranty. Mine was humming along just fine until late last year when one side of the spacebar started sticking on occasion. It got worse over time, and by April, it was really annoying.

Butterfly keyboards are notoriously sensitive to debris – they are super thin and any type of crumb under a key can prevent it from working. They are also difficult to repair and it isn’t recommended to try at home. Being an “experienced” Mac owner, I decided to try a repair anyway. I watched a few videos and it seemed straightforward enough. It wasn’t. Even though I was careful, I destroyed the entire understructure of the key. Now I was spacebar-less and all the Apple Stores were closed for COVID-19 and the boys needed to use my machine for school during the day. F*ck.

I decided to wait until at least the end of the school year to bring it in for repair, so I needed something to do in the interim. I thought I could lay my Magic Keyboard on top of my MacBook Pro keyboard and get by, but it randomly pushed keys so that didn’t work. The boys always sat at a table so they could put the keyboard in front of it, but that was a no-go on my lap. I found a key remapper called Karabiner Elements and mapped the right command key to the spacebar. It was workable but not suitable for typing anything longer than a sentence. For typing posts like this I’d either sit at my desk or use my 11″ MacBook Air.

Fast-forward to June – school was over and my local Apple Store was open. I headed down a couple of weeks ago and had a great appointment at the Genius Bar. We spent a lot of time talking about how the spacebar was the absolute worst key to break as she wrote up the repair. In order to fix the keyboard, Apple replaces the “top case”, which consists of the keyboard, trackpad, Touch Bar, speaker assembly, and battery. Out of warranty it’s a $700 repair. Coincidentally my battery was reporting severe degradation, so this replacement would fix that as well. It would also fix the dent I put into the corner of the case when I dropped it a couple of years ago. Bonus!

While my MacBook was out for repair I used my 11″ MacBook Air. It’s tiny but the keyboard works well and it’s fine for basic web browsing. The Pro’s larger footprint makes it more stable for typing, the screen is way better, the sound is better, and it’s way faster. I can’t run Lightroom on my Air, so no photo editing occurred during that time.

My Pro arrived back today, almost two weeks after I dropped it off. It took longer than I wanted and Apple’s repair status page wasn’t very helpful, but they did everything they said they would and shipped it back overnight. I now have a brand new keyboard and a battery with 2 recharge cycles on it instead of ~300.

I’m happy to have my machine back and to be able to type again. It was unreal not having a working spacebar but everything’s fixed now. Woo hoo!

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