The new MacBook: There’s a lot hanging on that keyboard →

April 10, 2015 |

The reviews of Apple’s new MacBook are out and it seems that, predictably, its most polarizing feature is also one of the most frequently used: the keyboard.

In order to create a much shallower keyboard for their thinnest laptop yet, Apple invented a new “Butterfly mechanism” that supposedly gives keys more stability, even with off-center hits. This, however, comes with an important trade-off: much-reduced key travel.

If you’re at all picky about your keyboards, you’ll know that key travel is an incredibly important usability factor, perhaps much more important than key stability itself. Therefore, the question is, did Apple achieve the right compromise between the two in this keyboard?

Christina Warren, whose excellent review of the new MacBook is the title-link for this entry, believes that, though it definitely wasn’t love at first sight for her, it is something she could get used to:

One consequence of the keys being so close to the frame is that the low amount of travel did make the typing process a bit more… painful. I don’t suffer from carpal tunnel, but I did find that extended periods typing on the new MacBook keyboard tired my wrists a bit more than a traditional keyboard. Take breaks if you’re going to be writing on this thing all the time — at least until you “break it in.”

The thing that was harder to get used to was the size of the keys: They’re now bigger. Apple made the keys 17% larger than standard MacBook keys.

This made my first few hours typing on the keyboard a bit difficult as a touch typist because I consistently felt off by a letter. In time though, I got used to the new keyboard.

Still, if you use other keyboards — or have used the standard Apple keyboard for close to a decade (as I have), it’ll take some adjustment.

That doesn’t seem too bad but on the other hand, Jason Snell does not count himself among fans of the new keyboard in his extended commentary at Six Colors:

I go into a lot more detail about this in the review, but in the end I’ve got to say that I’m not a fan of the new keyboard. Apple played the other enhancements that the keyboard offers, such as increased stability and wider keys, as attempts to offset some of the costs of the reduced key travel. That makes me hopeful that Apple sees this keyboard as what it is—a pretty serious compromise in order to get the computer thinner—rather than some breakthrough new keyboard that will be replicated on every other Apple keyboard in the next year or two.

If you don’t type a whole lot, or very fast, you may not care about the substantially reduced key travel. And you can get used to it. But it’s just a tiny step up from typing on flat touchscreen glass. I managed to score almost 120 words per minute on TypeRacer on the MacBook keyboard, but I didn’t enjoy it. If you’re someone who notices when a keyboard feels different or weird, you will notice this keyboard. If you’ve never really understood why people write about keyboards, you probably won’t care—but why are you even reading this section?

It’s an interesting contrast, to be sure. Also, don’t forget to check out Jason’s full review of the new MacBook at Macworld.

If you were planning to buy a new MacBook but had any doubts about the keyboard whatsoever, it appears to be one of those features you should personally try before committing to purchase. So before placing your order, my advice would be to stop by your local Apple Store to see how you like it.