Apple's Butterfly Keyboards vs. Scissor Switch Keyboards

Since 2012, Apple has developed two kinds of keyboards for its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air machines - one that uses butterfly switches and one that uses scissor switches.

scissorbutterfly3
Many people are aware of the problems with the butterfly keyboards that resulted in a huge recall program and many frustrated customers, but may still be confused by what exactly a butterfly keyboard is, how it's different from a scissor switch keyboard, and why Apple elected to ditch the butterfly key mechanism to return to the tried and true scissor switch mechanism. This guide explains the differences between the two keyboard types.

How a Scissor Switch Keyboard Works

With a scissor switch keyboard, the keys are attached to the keyboard using two plastic pieces that interlock together in an X shape like a pair of scissors, hence the name.

scissorvsbutterfly
The two pieces snap to the keyboard and the key, and when you press down, the two pieces close together like scissors. Scissor switch keys don't have quite as much travel as some other key types, but there's more travel than a butterfly keyboard because there's more space when the scissor mechanism compresses.

How a Butterfly Switch Keyboard Works

The scissor switch keyboards have a scissor-like operating mechanism, while the butterfly keyboards use a mechanism that features components that work together like the wings on a butterfly rather than overlap.

butterflymechanism7
The two halves of the butterfly switch attach to a hinge in the middle and when pressed, the two sides compress down in more of a V or U shape.

butterflykey4
Apple swapped to a butterfly design for a thinner keyboard that allowed for thinner devices, but also advertised the butterfly keys as being more stable because of the way that a butterfly mechanism more evenly distributes applied pressure from a finger press.

Butterfly keys generally have less travel than scissor switch keys and there's less squish and less movement, plus there's a more space for debris to accumulate, which is what led to Apple's issues.

Butterfly Keyboard Problems

The butterfly keyboard design, where the two halves of each keyboard switch attach to a middle hinge, allow a lot of space where dust, debris, and other particulates can accumulate, gunking up the mechanism and preventing it from working properly.

ifixitbutterflykeyboardteardown

Butterfly keyboard, via iFixit

When dust and debris get into the butterfly keyboard mechanism on a Mac, the keys get stuck, start repeating or fail to work entirely, all of which are undesirable outcomes.

Apple attempted to improve the butterfly keyboard over the course of several years through various improvements such as the addition of membranes to block particulates, but no improvement method was successful.

So many people ended up running into problems with the butterfly keyboard that Apple implemented a recall program.

Mac Notebooks That Had Butterfly Keyboards

The first Mac with a butterfly keyboard was released in 2015, and the last Mac with a butterfly keyboard was released in 2019. A full list of of Mac models with butterfly keyboards is below, and all of these Macs are eligible for Apple's butterfly keyboard repair program.

  • MacBook (Retina, 12-­inch, Early 2015)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12­-inch, Early 2016)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12-­inch, 2017)
  • ‌MacBook Air‌ (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
  • ‌MacBook Air‌ (Retina, 13-inch, 2019)
  • MacBook Pro (13­-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-­inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2016)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2017)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2018)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (15-­inch, 2019)

The repair program covers Macs for four years after the first retail sale of the machine.

Why Apple Ditched Butterfly Keyboards

There was a huge amount of criticism levied at Apple for its decision to continue using the butterfly keyboard for four years after people first started experiencing issues with the design, and dissatisfaction had ramped up to such a degree that there was no other choice for Apple but to adopt a new design.

scissorbutterfly2
Apple also had to implement a repair program for the butterfly keyboard that was undoubtedly expensive, another factor necessitating a switch to the more reliable scissor switch mechanism.

The New Scissor Switch Keyboards

Apple in the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro, the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the 2020 13-inch ‌MacBook Air‌ introduced a redesigned "Magic Keyboard" that uses a scissor switch mechanism instead of a butterfly mechanism.

scissorswitchifixit

New 2019 scissor switch keyboard, via iFixit

Apple says that the new Magic Keyboard features the "best typing experience ever on a Mac notebook" with 1mm of key travel and a stable key feel. According to Apple, the keys were designed with an Apple-crafted rubber dome that stores more potential energy for a more responsive key press.

Guide Feedback

Have a question about Apple's butterfly or scissor switch keyboards, know of something we left out, or want to offer feedback? Send us an email here.

Top Stories

REC ASA CODE2016 20160601 205816 2745

Elon Musk Reportedly Demanded to Become Apple CEO as Part of Potential Tesla Acquisition [Update: Musk Denies]

Friday July 30, 2021 9:04 am PDT by
Tesla CEO Elon Musk reportedly once demanded that he be made Apple CEO in a brief discussion of a potential acquisition with Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook. The claim comes in a new book titled "Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century," as reviewed by The Los Angeles Times. According to the book, during a 2016 phone call between Musk and Cook that touched on the possibility of ...
General Apps Messages

Android iMessage Competitor Puts Pressure on Apple

Friday July 30, 2021 3:15 am PDT by
Google and the three major U.S. carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, will all support a new communications protocol on Android smartphones starting in 2022, a move that puts pressure on Apple to adopt a new cross-platform messaging standard and may present a challenge to iMessage. Verizon recently announced that it is planning to adopt Messages by Google as its default messaging...
Apple watch series 5 new case material made of titanium 091019

Titanium Apple Watch Series 6 Models Currently Widely Unavailable

Sunday August 1, 2021 6:21 am PDT by
Models of the Apple Watch Series 6 with titanium cases part of the "Apple Watch Edition" collection is currently widely unavailable for pick-up in several of Apple's retail stores in the United States and is unavailable entirely for delivery in major markets. Noted by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman in the latest edition of his "Power On" newsletter, titanium models of the Apple Watch Series 6,...
ifixit iphone12 mini

Apple to Make Space for Larger Batteries in iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks By Adopting Slimmer Peripheral Chips

Monday August 2, 2021 2:12 am PDT by
For future iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, Apple plans to use smaller internal components in an effort to increase the size of the device's battery, according to DigiTimes. Image Credit: iFixit Specifically, Apple plans to "significantly increase the adoption" of IPDs or integrated passive devices for the peripheral chips in its products. These news chips will be slimmer in size and allow for...
Flat 2021 MacBook Pro Mockup Feature

Unreleased Apple Macs and Apple Watches Listed in Eurasian Database Ahead of Fall Product Launches

Monday August 2, 2021 9:34 am PDT by
Apple is preparing for a slew of fall product launches according to new filings that showed up today in the Eurasian Economic Commission database. There are listings for new Mac and Apple Watch models, all of which have previously unknown model identifiers that indicate that they're upcoming devices. There are six new Apple Watch identifiers, including A2473, A2474, A2475, A2476, A2477, and...
a15 chip

iPhone 13 and Redesigned MacBook Pro Chip Production Hit With Gas Contamination

Friday July 30, 2021 5:44 am PDT by
The most important TSMC factory that manufactures Apple's chips destined for next-generation iPhone and Mac models has been hit by a gas contamination, according to Nikkei Asia. The factory, known as "Fab 18," is TSMC's most advanced chipmaking facility. TSMC is Apple's sole chip supplier, making all of the processors used in every Apple device with a custom silicon chip. Industry...
iPhone 13 Wi Fi 6E feature update

Wi-Fi 6E Explained: What It Could Mean for iPhone 13 and Beyond

Monday August 2, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
The iPhone 13 is widely expected to come with Wi-Fi 6E capabilities, and while it may seem rather nuanced to the average consumer, with only improved speeds and being "up to date" in the realm of Wi-Fi technology, it's actually a fairly significant improvement, laying the groundwork for much of what we know the future holds. To truly understand Wi-Fi 6E, MacRumors sat down for an exclusive...
youtube premium lite

YouTube Tests Cheaper 'Premium Lite' Subscription for Ad-Free Viewing

Monday August 2, 2021 3:22 am PDT by
YouTube is piloting a new cheaper subscription tier in Europe called "Premium Lite," which offers ad-free viewing minus YouTube Premium's other features. First spotted by a user on ResetEra and subsequently confirmed by Google, the "Lite" plan means users who aren't interested in offline downloads or background playback can still enjoy YouTube videos on web and mobile app without being...
iPhone 13 Always On Feature

iPhone 13 to Bring Over a Major Feature From the Apple Watch

Wednesday July 28, 2021 2:21 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone 13 lineup will feature an always-on display akin to the Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6, according to recent reports. In his weekly Power On newsletter, Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman, who often reveals accurate insights into Apple's plans, said that the iPhone 13 may feature an Apple Watch-inspired always-on mode. The Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch...
COVID19 Digital Wallet Apple Wallet

Australian Government Now Offering COVID-19 Digital Vaccination Certificates for Apple Wallet

Monday August 2, 2021 12:04 am PDT by
The Australian government has introduced support for adding COVID-19 vaccination digital certificates to Apple Wallet via the Express Plus Medicare app on iOS. Image credit: Tap Down Under As spotted by Tap Down Under, users who have received two doses of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine now have access to the digital certificate through their Medicare online account or via the Medica...