Apple: The butterfly has flown

The release of the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro represents the end of a keyboard design era.

From Dieter Bohn’s “Apple announces new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Magic Keyboard” posted Monday on The Verge:

Sooner than most expected, Apple has announced a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with a Magic Keyboard. It features optional Intel 10th-Gen processors and starts at $1,299. In one sense, it is a minor spec-bump upgrade for the existing lineup of 13-inch MacBook Pros. But it also represents the end of an era: Apple no longer sells any new laptops with the much-maligned butterfly keyboard mechanism.

Apple has moved relatively quickly to cycle out the butterfly keyboard from its lineup. The 16-inch MacBook Pro was announced in November 2019, followed by a refreshed MacBook Air with Magic Keyboard this past March. In the span of six months, Apple has completely swapped out its entire laptop lineup with models that use better, scissor switch keyboards. Compare that to the five years it spent trying to make the butterfly keyboard mechanism work since the 2015 MacBook (now-discontinued).

My take: Not Jony Ive’s finest moment.

9 Comments

  1. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. My take: Not Jony Ive’s finest moment.”

    My take: Nobody left to have Jony’s back.

    When Steve Jobs was alive Jony and Steve were forceful to push design as transcendent over hardware at the expense of engineers’ preference for functionality. The symbiotic relationship between Steve and Jony was predicated on their intrinsic love for design. When Steve passed, I wondered how long Jony and his design team would succeed in not having to compromise their design schematics forward to engineers’ choosing. I can’t help but feel that Jony’s departure from Apple was relative to his loss of influence in winning those internal battles with the engineering team.

    1
    May 4, 2020
  2. Rodney Avilla said:
    “My take: Not Jony Ive’s finest moment.”
    Did Ive design the butterfly mechanism? I know he was in charge of aesthetic design, but I did not think he was in charge of mechanical design. I realize he influenced mechanical design, but does the keyboard look that much different with the newer mechanisms, than with the butterfly mechanism? In other words, was the butterfly mechanism required in order to please Ive aesthetically? Perhaps I’m missing something.

    0
    May 4, 2020
    • “Did Ive design the butterfly mechanism?”

      No, but conventional wisdom blames the keyboard design on Ive’s obsession with thin devices. Google it—Jony Ive Butterly keyboard—to see what I mean.

      2
      May 4, 2020
      • David Emery said:
        Yeah, I described that obsession with thinness as producing ‘anorexic’ significantly compromised designs.

        0
        May 4, 2020
      • Rodney Avilla said:
        I am well aware of the conventional wisdom. And, in full disclosure, I have never been a big Ive fan, and had no problem with Ive leaving, although I (mostly) love Apple’s (Ive’s) designs. But in fairness, I have never read that an engineer came to Jobs and said “if I follow Ive’s guidance, the mechanism will not be ideal” (Ive’s fault), vs “I can follow his guidance and the keys will work just fine” (engineer’s fault). Maybe someday someone will write a book with the details. Maybe I’m expecting too much.

        0
        May 4, 2020
        • David Emery said:
          Well, I thought one reason for dropping the SD card slot was the real estate that they lost to make the laptop so thin. That’s also true with the form factor shape change between MagSafe I and MagSafe II.

          So I’d suspect there were discussions of the trade-offs between the thin designs and the loss of real estate.

          0
          May 4, 2020
    • Jerry Doyle said:
      @Rodney Avilla:

      All that I have read on Steve Jobs and Jony Ive reinforces that the two men had forged an indelible bond in industrial design collaboration relative to design principles in computers. The two men were on the exact wavelength in their design thinking relative to forms and materials. Steve purposely had Jony organizationally, report directly to Steve. Nobody in Apple told Jony what to do, other than Steve Jobs.

      Steve knew Apple was a product company. I believe that he served as the ballast to balance both men’s needs to design their respective gospel of “less is better” and “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” with operational functionality.

      Once Steve passed, that ballast he provided in the collaboration between the two men no longer existed.

      Gradually, Apple under the leadership of Tim Cook, converted to the practice where engineering tends to drive design. This is how it is done in most other companies. It is the engineers who set forth their specifications and requirements and the designers subsequently come up with cases and shells that accommodate them.

      With Jony’s continued focus on “thinness,” Apple engineers were forced to accommodate Jony’s design focus. Steve was no different in his approach. In earlier days Jobs approved the design of the case of the original Macintosh, and the engineers had to make their boards and components to fit. Remember Steve’s and Jony’s collaboration on insisting engineers use a solid piece of brushed aluminum for the edge of the iPhone 4 even when the Apple engineers pushed back strongly saying forcefully that the design would compromise the antenna.

      Once Steve passed, Jony continued forth as he always had done. Steve, though, now was gone. When he lived, Steve had Jony’s back.

      Jony has to accept more responsibility for the saga of Apple’s flawed butterfly MacBook keyboards hardware design. Why? Because the “primary” benefit of the butterfly keyboard was its “thinness,” giving Apple more flexibility to use the extra space for more components and to make the entire laptop thinner. It went over like the solid piece of brushed aluminum for the edge of the iPhone 4.

      1
      May 4, 2020
      • David Emery said:
        I think Sir Jony tended to view Design for its own sake. Steve Jobs had a sense of design producing new user focus and capabilities. Without Jobs’ sense of ‘utility’, design just turns into ‘art for art’s sake’ and doesn’t actually move the user experience forward.

        2
        May 4, 2020
        • Jacob Feenstra said:
          I don’t think that is true. Ive always talks about the interplay of both: form AND function (it’s symbiotic). He has often warned AGAINST design for the sake the design. I think Jobs and Ive’s view were very much the same. But sometimes things went wrong. Remember Jobs insistence on the round mouse for the original iMac? Most people hated it.

          0
          May 4, 2020

Leave a Reply