Introduction

As teased in our MacBook Pro 13” Touch Bar teardown, we now bring you an in-depth look at Apple’s newly-designed, 3rd-generation MacBook Pro keyboard. For your education and viewing pleasure, we’ll push the keyboard to its dust-protection limits, before venturing deep into its many layers. Will the keyboard survive our rigorous tests? Or will it be irrevvversibly changggggd? Only one way to find out—time for a teardown!

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This teardown is not a repair guide. To repair your MacBook Pro 13" Touch Bar 2018, use our service manual.

  1. Visually speaking, the new keyboard is strikingly similar to the previous model. In the first image you can see the slightly taller option ⌥ symbol on the new model.
    • Visually speaking, the new keyboard is strikingly similar to the previous model. In the first image you can see the slightly taller option ⌥ symbol on the new model.

    • The new keycaps measure ever-so-slightly thinner (about 1.25 mm, vs. 1.50 mm on the 2017 model), allowing for easier removal with less risk of damage. We also note that the space bar's inner workings have been subtly redesigned.

    • And of course, there's the new silicone layer draped over the delicate butterfly mechanisms.

    • A while back, Apple filed a patent for all sorts of keyboard ingress-proofing methodologies. And today Apple may have confirmed the silicone's true purpose as dust protection.

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  2. Let's address the key concern on everyone's minds: do the new silicone implants work? Here's our highly scientific analysis:
    • Let's address the key concern on everyone's minds: do the new silicone implants work? Here's our highly scientific analysis:

      • We sprinkled some blue powder on the keys, mashed on them, and then popped the keycaps off to see where the powder went.

    • Mild success! The third-gen keyboard (first image) routes most of the powder towards the edge of the key and away from the delicate butterfly mechanism. Last year's mechanisms (second image) don't fare so well.

    • Accelerated testing (aka more powder, more typing) pushes glowing dust past the membrane's not-infallible defenses and onto the dome switch.

    • Shoutout to our buddy and fellow Mac enthusiast @danj for the fluorescent powder idea! Thanks Dan.

    Can the dust be cleaned with compressed air like on the previous keyboard? Or will it get deeper inside?

    Anton Akusok - Reply

    It seems like the last year model you are showing is actually 2016 model judging from the Option key? Does the 2017 model has the exact same design (despite still named V2)?

    LongYC - Reply

    • Stage 1 cleared! Onward to stage 2: the sand test of DOOM.

    • We sprinkle a pinch of sand over the keyboard, type on the keys for a minute, and ...

      • We don't even have to lift the keycaps off to realize that something is wrong. A few keys have seized up!

      • Prying the keycaps off, we find that grains of sand have invaded through the corner perforations in the membrane and have jammed the butterfly mechanism.

    • Conclusion: the silicone membrane adds a significant degree of ingress resistance, but falls short of being fully bulletproof dustproof.

    My Macbook Pro 2018 13” already has a broken keyboard, similar to the previous model. Apple sent me to an Apple Approved Service Center who told me they weren’t able to order the replacement keyboard yet because the model of my Macbook is too new. As a result I’m now using a bluetooth keyboard to type, because my Macbook has become unusable.

    Vincent - Reply

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    • Now that we've extensively explored the topside of the keyboard, it's time to shift our attention underneath, where our teardown begins in earnest.

    • First we peel back a heavily-glued shield, exposing the large keyboard base.

    • Before going any further, we have to return to the top of the keyboard and remove every remaining keycap to get access to the silicone barrier.

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    • Just three more stages in this gauntlet before the keyboard can ESCape its prison:

      • In our line of work, P2 pentalobe screws are as common as, well, iPhones—so we've got the professional tools to tackle them.

      • Apparently security screws aren't secure enough, so the keyboard also features rivets. We had to carve off over a dozen of these single-use posts in order to proceed.

      • What remains is a mild layer of adhesive; we pile on the iOpeners and heat things up.

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    • With all of its defenses thwarted, the keyboard PCB gives way and peels from the chassis, fully exposing the membrane that was sandwiched underneath.

    • Apart from the improved keycaps, this keyboard design is still pretty lacking in serviceability. The sheer amount of disassembly required, along with obstacles such as rivets and adhesive, makes replacing a failed keyboard seriously impractical.

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    • Wondering where the rest of the 2018 MacBook is? Check out our 13" MacBook teardown, or our 15" MacBook video teardown.

    • We've also got more detailed keyboard analysis and sparkling commentary for you over on our blog.

    • And if you're wondering why we care so much about this keyboard thing, check out our recap post for the tl;dr.

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9 Comments

Obviously not perfect, but the removeable keycaps + silicon seals are good enough for me. Now I have to somehow find enough money to buy one.

Martin Karel - Reply

Nice breakdown! It really explains why the keyboards were such a problem and why it was taking place. Thanks!

I have the 2017 version, in the 7 months that I’ve had it, I’ve yet to run into the problems that others have had, yet. (Well, that I have an external Apple Keyboard hooked up, and I don’t eat over my laptop either) but I do feel I need to keep a can of air at the ready just in case I do.

Thanks again!

Chris

Chris Denny - Reply

Having this tear-down showing a significant improvement in redesign, I’d cop one of these for sure. Not the i9, but an i7 with 16gb is more than enough for me. Thanks for the quaity post and for your sponsorship of the right-to-repair movement!

jeremyfitz - Reply

Just to put the whole mess into perspective for those of us who haven’t had to deal with these keyboards directly, I’d be curious to see the glow-in-the-dark dust trick on an ordinary chiclet keyboard (and maybe a proper old-school PowerBook/ThinkPad keyboard) for comparison.

JK_ - Reply

The thing is those older keyboard designs are far more robust. They keep working even when dust gets in, which it inevitably will.

Ian -

No problem on my MacBook Pro so like apple said it’s for the sound

pdg - Reply

How come the patent is all about restricting dust etc then?

Mark Pritchard - Reply

Could you guys try putting the 2018 top case on an older model to see if they’re truly incompatible? It would be interesting to see if that’s the case since Apple appears to be refusing to properly fix older devices with the newer model.

tmaidment - Reply

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