How a new keyboard made me buy the 2020 MacBook Air

Michael Tsai, about the updated MacBook Air announced earlier this week:

In retrospect, I kind of wish I had waited for this instead of buying a 16-inch MacBook Pro. I love the speed and the larger display, but the oversized trackpad and the Touch Bar annoy me on a daily basis.

Two hours after the new MacBook Air was announced, I ordered mine.1 A no-brainer. They had me at “New Magic Keyboard.” A new, reliable keyboard is precisely what I’ve been waiting for. Now I can upgrade from my 11-inch MacBook Air bought in early 2015.

New keyboards were long overdue on Mac laptops. Replacing the infamous butterfly keyboards was urgent: Gruber called these keyboards the “biggest mistake in Apple’s modern history.” I don’t believe it is an overstatement at all. Hard to say how many people were waiting for Apple to introduce a new keyboard design before upgrading their ageing Macs, but I’m guessing a lot.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro was the first Mac in years to feature a brand new keyboard, and not another updated version of the existing, failing one.

Think about this: the 16-inch MacBook Pro was the first Mac in years to feature a reliable keyboard.

For a company like Apple, focused on design and with such a great reputation in hardware, maintaining — for years — a full line of laptops featuring these keyboard is, for the lack of a better word, crazy. And we are not talking audio jacks or Bluetooth antennas, we are talking about the keyboard on a laptop.

Imagine BMW selling cars with faulty transmissions, making the cars unreliable and a pain to drive for most owners, and then reintroducing more or less the same defective transmission on newer models, year after year.

That’s basically what Apple did with its laptops.2 Also, Apple is the only company making computers running MacOS: if you need or prefer MacOS, you are stuck with one company. That’s why these faulty keyboards are such a drama. If ASUS or Dell had made laptops with terrible keyboards, first they would not have waited years to change their design (the benefits of competition), and second, the complaints would never had been so loud.

With this fresh 16-inch MacBook Pro featuring the new keyboard design, I’m sure many frustrated Mac users simply couldn’t wait any longer to get a new machine. Many bought this laptop as soon as the first reassuring reviews were published; for example, Dieter Bohn at the Verge:

I am actually nervous saying that the keyboard is good now. I have reviewed the majority of the butterfly keyboard MacBooks, and with each iteration, I haven’t minded the key feel. It had a sort of gliding feeling that — to me — was almost worth the clacky sound. But those reviews were all written after a week or two of use, which is not enough time to run into a reliability problem.

I’ve had this 16-inch MacBook Pro for the same amount of time, but I’m calling it fixed regardless because the new switch mechanism under the keys is the more traditional scissor-switch

Regardless of the keyboard, the 16-inch looks like a great machine, but its size and level of performance suggest a specific profile of pro customers. For regular people like myself, it would have been overkill, and also way more expensive than a regular MacBook Air, better suited to my needs.

Had the wait lasted a few weeks longer, and I may have found myself in Michael Tsai’s shoes: wishing to have waited a bit longer. Like I said, I was never going for the 16-inch, but I was seriously considering my next computer to be an iPad. Nothing wrong with an iPad per se, but I feel much more at home with MacOS and the laptop form factor.

Looking at this new Air (on paper for now), I am glad I waited so long, and at the same time, glad I did not have to wait any longer.

  1. I went for the 256 GB, quad-core i5 in Silver: only 50 euros more than the dual-core i3 entry model.↩︎

  2. And continues to do: the MacBook Pro 13-inch for instance is still using the butterfly keyboard.↩︎