One of my major tasks for January was to decide my next steps with my Apple lease on all of the gear at my school. We’re coming up on the end of year three of our four-year lease. When we originally took out the lease, I always had in the back of my mind that we might trade in all of our gear at the end of year three (March 2019), but I couldn’t come to a conclusion about the best steps forward in the fall of 2018. My main concern is with the butterfly keyboard reliability of the new MacBook Air.
About Making The Grade: Every Saturday, Bradley Chambers publishes a new article about Apple in education. He has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing 100s of Macs and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple’s products work at scale, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for students.
Our device landscape is made up of iPads for students and MacBook Air (previous generation) for teachers. I’ve been very happy with this deployment. We’ve had minimal hardware damage, and I’ve probably only spent $1000 out of pocket for repairs. If you remember from a past article, I don’t buy AppleCare. Our biggest problem at the moment is that battery life on our laptops isn’t what it used to be, but it’s not unbearable. Overall, we’ve just had a great experience over the past three years.
Going forward, I have concerns about buying new Apple products in bulk. This concern has zero to do with the iPad. In fact, the iPad might be the most dependable hardware ever shipped by any company. The fact that we have students carrying around slabs of glass, and we don’t see 90% breakage rates is mind-blowing to me. I’ve seen a handful of screens need to be replaced, and I had one lightning port fail. My concern going forward lies 100% with the MacBook Air’s butterfly keyboard reliability. I am certainly not the only one as well.
2015, first butterfly keyboard: “We hate it and it keeps breaking”
2016, it becomes the only option: “We hate it and it keeps breaking”
2017, gasket revision: “We hate it and it keeps breaking”
2018, dust membrane: “We hate it and it keeps breaking”
Apple, are you listening?
— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) January 19, 2019
When you use a laptop for personal use, it can be annoying when things break. You might have to let Apple work on it for a few days, but you an usually adjust. When it comes to business usage, it’s a massive problem. When machines go down in enterprise organizations, it costs time and money. It costs employees time to transfer data to a loaner machine, and it costs money in productivity and repair costs. The MacBook Air’s butterfly keyboard has a problem with reliability, and that is something I cannot afford to deal with. This problem isn’t limited to the MacBook Air, though. Since the butterfly keyboards made its appearance in 2015, I’ve heard horror story after horror story. It’s the main reason I kept buying the MacBook Air with the ancient screen for our staff. I knew the keyboard would be reliable, and that has been proven correct. Certainly in the enterprise, I’ll trade a Retina screen for a reliable keyboard.
Every single butterfly keyboard in our company has died at least once.
— Wayne Robinson (@kondro) January 19, 2019
When I read tweets like this, I know that I am making the right decision. Until Apple can get back to the reliability of the 2015 MacBook Pro and 2015 MacBook Air, I am going to struggle to purchase laptops in bulk. When we get to the spring of 2020, I will be at a crossroads. If Apple hasn’t fixed the problem with their keyboards, what will I do? If I choose a MacBook Air with a butterfly keyboard, I know that we will love the physical design and the beautiful screen. I also know that I’ll be waiting for the first keyboard to become unreliable. I’ll likely need to buy additional replacement units to have on hand to use in the event of problems. I might even be tempted to buy AppleCare to cover repairs as well.
If I go with a lower cost Chromebook, I’ll be less satisfied with the hardware, but I’ll know I can replace it inexpensively. Right now, Apple laptops are expensive, somewhat unreliable (keyboard), and hard to repair on. Those three things are major negatives in the enterprise IT world. I can handle expensive and hard to repair, but being unreliable is a serious concern. I just hope that before then, Apple can fix whatever is causing the reliability issues with the butterfly keyboard in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Incase you are wondering, I am still using a 2015 MacBook Pro, and the keyboard still works perfect.