MacBook Pro Retina 2016 and 2017 Keycaps

Overview

As a specialist in the industry, we regularly see faults that appear to be common within certain ranges, however, since so many of the machines that come through our doors are faulty, it is somewhat difficult to perform an objective analysis on the overall stability of any given Mac range with great accuracy.

That being said, it has not gone unnoticed that we have seen an increase in particular keycap and scissor clip sales since the release of Apple’s own ‘butterfly clip’ design. More recently we have also heard of a possible lawsuit against Apple for not replacing keycaps due to poor design.

Unfortunately, because of the way these keyboards have been designed, it is very easy to cause irreparable damage when removing keycaps. We would always recommend going in to see Apple about it (even if it is outside of its original warranty, as you are legally covered by consumer law within the UK/EU for manufacturing faults potentially present at the point of sale for up to 5 years from purchase), as the most common problem is that the keycaps themselves actually snap, which can affect response to touch or become non-responsive.

In cases where you have damaged the keycap then have removed the key and damaged the surface mounts below, or have snapped the scissor clip pegs off, there are other solutions for repairs, but they will not be covered here. What this article aims to cover is the safe fitting and removal process of what we refer to as the Type-M and Type-P keycap types (type-L is also similar in design).

Update: Type-M keycaps were first released on the 2016 retina ranges. Type-P is a slight variant found on the 2017 retina ranges and although it is slightly different, Apple is now positioning it as a direct substitute for the Type-M keycaps.

Butterfly Scissor Clip Design

The butterfly scissor clip differs to the design of earlier models because it doesn’t comprise two interconnected parts. The clip literally ‘butterflies’ with the fold in the middle causing the upper and lower parts to move in-sync with each other, as seen below.

Type-P Butterfly Clip

Type-P Butterfly Clip

Keycaps have been designed in the same basic way all the way back to the original PowerBook ranges, and that doesn’t change here with the butterfly clip. There are four pegs on the scissor clip that hold the keycap onto the keyboard. Two of them align and slide into place, and two of them snap in, holding the key in place, as seen below. The right side aligns first, then the left side clicks into place.

Clip Design

Clip Design, one clip, one slide

If you try to remove the keycap from the wrong side, you will break either the keycap latches, or the scissor clip. If you are dealing with these extremely delicate butterfly clips, there is a very good chance that you can damage the top case mount as well (early ranges have metal mounts that the scissor clip attaches to but the butterfly models attach to easily broken plastic mounts as seen below).

Close up clips

Close up clips

As seen above, the inner pegs will invert when the key is up, and the outer 2 pegs are housed in a plastic frame. when pressed the outer pegs go down, and the inner ones go up. If you try to pry the keycap off the top, the outer plastic mounts often snap irreparably damaging the top case. The only option then is to replace the entire top case (as Apple would suggest) or cut out the mount and glue in a replacement from a surrogate keyboard (not an easy task).

So the short and simple advice is, be very careful when removing your key, especially if there is a chance Apple can be held accountable for it and will provide a replacement. Even if it seems like a simple job initially, its not worth the risk. We’ve heard of a lot of cases where someone has tried to re-fit the key but they’ve damaged the mount and Apple have refused to cover it under warranty.

The replacement process

If you are like many out there who dont have any warranty coverage anymore, or would just want to do the job yourself, we’re hoping the following will help you with the process.

If you are aware of which side of the key ‘clicks’ and which one ‘slides’ (as noted above) and have a gentle touch, you can easily replace most of the keys on your keyboard.

  • Alphanumeric – Clip at the top, and slide at the bottom
  • Space Bar – Clicks at the top, slides at the bottom

Always start at the ‘hinge’ point of the clip. In the middle of the left or right side on the space bar and alphanumeric keys (function and arrow keys, its in the middle of the top or bottom edge, as they are side on).

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Make sure to get the pick or piece of plastic just under the keycap edge, but not deep enough to get under the butterfly mechanism. This is very important to ensure you don’t damage the scissor clip.

Then slide it towards the ‘click’ side of the keycap, which is up in the case of the space bar and alphanumeric keys.

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Space Bar Process

Start on the left or right side, the same as the alphanumeric keys, making sure to only go as deep as the keycap, not under the butterfly clip edge.

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You will feel resistance as you come across the ‘clips’ on the underside of the keycap. Remove the pick and reinsert it and carry on.

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Refitting the keys is done in reverse. Align the ‘slide’ side of the keycap to the scissor clip, then push down on the ‘click’ side until it clicks into place.

If you know how it works, they are pretty easy to replace, but hopefully this will make your life easier as we are trying to take the guess work out of the keycap replacement process so you can save yourself the expensive Apple repair process.

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Arrow Keys

 

Butterfly Clip Fitting

If you are unfortunate enough to have to contend with the butterfly clip fitting process, this is where it gets more tricky.

Firstly, if there is any damage to the plastic mount on the top case unit, or if the peg is broken or damaged on the clip, there is no point trying to fit the butterfly clip as it wont seat properly. (see illustration below)

To fit the butterfly clip, you cannot simply ‘press down’ on the clip and expect it to slot into place. This is often how the damage illustrated above is caused. The butterfly clip needs to be ‘stretched’ over the top case mount to prevent any damage to the retaining brackets.

In the illustration below, we start on the left of the space bar (most complicated clip to fit) and work our way to the right.

  1. Align the first 4 pegs to the mount. Inner 2 go in the gap and the outer 2 go under the mount.
  2. To engage the second set of 4 pegs, insert a tiny flat-blade screwdriver between the upper 2 pegs. Gently rotating the screwdriver will stretch the clip away from the mount so that you can lower the clip over the mount and then release the screwdriver to allow the upper peg to go safely under the mount without straining the peg or the mount. Repeat for the lower 2 pegs of this set.
  3. Repeat for the 3rd set of 4 pegs, but rock it (stretch it) to the right.
  4. Repeat for the final 4 pegs on the far right.

 

If you find yourself in a position where the mount on the top case is damaged, there is still hope… but it is about as complicated a job as you will come across when dealing with keycaps. In our experience, you can get it functioning again, but its motion will never be 100% as new again.

The process involves cutting off the plastic surface mount (the domed section with the metal plate under it) and replacing it with an undamaged one from a donor top case. It needs glueing into place, but alignment is so precise on these models that any slight twist will cause the key to stick when pressed so be aware that if you carry out this process, it may not operate with the exact same response as the other keys on your keyboard.
We hope this guide proves helpful when replacing your keycaps and can give your machine a new lease of life. Hopefully Apple will be more supportive when dealing with these sort of manufacturing and design problems on their keyboards, but until then, let us know your thoughts. If there is another guide you’d like to see, get in contact and let us know!

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What Has Happened to Apple’s Quality Control?

As one who has worked on nearly every Apple product produced, it must be said, I have been repeatedly disappointed in Apple’s ever degrading quality control.

On the surface, Apple have made many improvements and advancements to their ranges.

Their MacBook Pro ranges have incredible potential, while losing the optical drive (the ever debatable ‘redundant’ feature according to some), the PCIe SSDs speed and the retina display quality is an incredible feat, while keeping the machine so slim at the same time. But the way in which the display is built makes LCD replacements near impossible for the majority of engineers. (we have carried out a number of these repairs at TheBookYard, but because the LCD is not a sealed unit, and the displays were constructed in a clean room environment, it is an extremely time consuming and difficult task to undertake. But that’s for another blog post entirely). They also have the ‘integration’ issue, with so much being combined into one primary (and very expensive) component. The logic board has integrated RAM, integrated GPU, integrated CPU, the battery is sealed to the top case (the top case, keyboard, trackpad and battery is one service spare according to Apple. Go figure. Replace half the machine for one fault? How’s that economical?) and the MagSafe 2 socket is a bit iffy to say the least… I’ll not even get started on the 12″ MacBook Retina range (2015 model) and its repairability.

The iMac ranges are a similar story. The’ve added 4K, then 5K to their iMacs while slimming them down drastically and reducing the excessive heat created to allow full management by a single fan (thats right, the 2012-< iMac ranges only have one fan!). Also with their super slim LCDs with its ‘Gapless’ glass panel, that not only reduce glare, but were noted as being sealed to prevent dust from getting between the panels. (Having serviced many of these later ranges, we’ve found that not to be completely true. They are ‘gapless’ by design, but they are not sealed fully. Dust often falls down between the LCD and the backlight sheets, leaving big ‘specs’ under the panel. its really disappointing that they are not hermetically sealed during their clean room construction)

On the other hand, they are so much less repairable and/or upgradable than their predecessors. With their ‘sealed construction’, a replacement VHB tape kit is required whenever the machine is opened. They also fit their hard drives with specific firmware that maps the internal SMART disk data in a unique way. (all drives do this, but there is a standard language used, just not with Apple…) This means you cannot fit an industry standard hard drive without fiddling with external sensors on replacement cables, etc. Not only that, with their ‘all-in-one’ design principles being used in their later designs, they are combining more and more functions into single serviceable parts. The logic board no longer just houses the CPU, but it now houses the GPU as well as a number of surface mounted thermal sensors and functions, which makes repairability more costly if a fault is to surface down the line.

But to get back on track, the true reason for this ‘rant’ is to talk about their lack of design quality. As time goes by, there are any number of quibbles and issues with products, most of which are minor and do not happen to the majority of the public. I’m not talking about the signal dropping issue of the iPhone 4, or the ‘bendy’ iPhone 6+. I’m not even talking about the Magsafe 2 charger, and its ability to lose connection with the slightest touch. Most of these happen on occasion, and although in hindsight, they could have been prevented by more extensive pre-release testing by the design team, they are not, as i would say, a complete design flaw.

The late range (2012-2013) iMac ranges hinge/clutch mechanism is another story entirely…

You may have heard of these hinges breaking. Typically, when the clutch breaks, the perfectly balanced body of the machine will drop down on its leg. As this is quite a common problem (anything that Apple actually admits to being a problem by extending an exchange/repair programme for is something to make note of), I took to seeing what the issue was. Some faults can be caused by excessive force, but this hinge issue is a complete design flaw. What engineer would trust an entire machines weight to a small piece of plastic!? Let me explain…

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The hinge mechanism is a big chunk of hunky metal, with strong, twisted springs. This is perfectly strengthened to counter the weight of the iMac (fun fact, they first introduced the ‘Feather Touch’ display tilt on the iMac G4 range).

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This is the hinge

But the real flaw, and the part that breaks (and caused Apple to start an extended 3 year exchange programme), is the mount that not only holds the tension of the spring, but that takes the brunt of the strain when the hinge is flexed.

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A broken hinge

The two Torx T8 screws in the middle can be adjusted to change the hinge tension, but the mount underneath is made out of plastic! No wonder it breaks!

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This is the hinge with the broken mounts

So… The bottom line is that, inside this beautifully designed piece of kit, is a tiny piece of plastic that is supposed to support your machine.

If you own either the 2012 or 2013 27″ iMac range, please be careful when moving the display up and down, as pushing it too much will put considerable strain on this plastic mount. It would be a shame for Apple’s exchange programme to expire and you to break it while trying to get a better viewing angle.

A thing to note, is that Apple’s current service spare replacement hinge for these models has the same design, but they have used a thicker plastic. This should make it much stronger, even though it is still made of plastic. But even still, what were you thinking Apple?

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Top – broken original hinge. Bottom – new Apple Service Spare replacement (ASP)

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Fitting Unibody MacBook Pro keyboards

Although Apple does not treat the keyboard in the late 2008 to mid-2012 MacBook Pros and 2008-2012 MacBook Airs as a service spare (they only supply it as part of the complete top case/unibody chassis), it can be replaced on it’s own with a little work. You have to remove pretty much everything from the laptop to get to it and there are over 50 tiny Philips #000 screws holding it in place, but it can certainly be worth the effort. This post is intended to avoid some of the common pitfalls in replacing the keyboard and in particular, handling it and connecting it back up to the logic board. It is not a guide on how to take the laptop apart. Although it is still possible to replace the keyboards on later Retina models, it is much harder since Apple started using tiny rivets instead of screws to fix the keyboard into the unibody chassis.

Once you have removed all parts needed to get clear access to the keyboard (battery, fans, logic board, optical drive, hard drive etc. – See appropriate iFixit guide), carefully peel off the backlight sheet by working round the edges avoiding tearing the black backing sheet. If you are replacing the backlight sheet as well, you don’t have to worry about damming the old one.

kb_layers

The backlight sheet consists of three layers : a thin plastic mask, a clear plastic diffuser and a thin plastic backing sheet containing the backlight LEDs themselves, which is white on the front and black on the back. Try and remove the three together so they stay attached to each other as this avoids the need to align them later. Once removed, store it in a clean bag or clean location so that the adhesive round the edge of the backing sheet stays sticky which will help when re-attaching.

Make sure you have a really good, sharp, #000 phillips screwdriver to remove all the tiny screws holding the keyboard in. Don’t bodge it with the wrong tool because if you strip one of those tiny screw heads, you’re in trouble. Once removed, fitting the replacement keyboard in place is a pretty straight forward reverse process.

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When replacing the backlight sheet, make sure the little block LEDs on the backing sheet are properly located in the holes in the diffuser sheet. If they are not then the backlight will not work.

After re-fitting the logic board, you need to connect the keyboard’s flex cable to the socket on the logic board which sounds simple but there are a surprising number of things that can go wrong here.

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Firstly, the logic board socket has a thin plastic clamping bar along the rear edge which if you have never done this before, you might not realise is there. This needs to be lifted before you can insert the flex cable. This bar is very delicate and becomes more fragile with age. If it breaks, you have a big problem as it can’t be fixed, the keyboard won’t work without it, and to replace the socket means replacing the logic board unless you are a dab hand at surface mount reworking. Our advise is don’t use any tool to lift the bar as this puts all the pressure applied on a tiny spot along the clamp bar. Using your finger nail works well or even the nails of two fingers so you can spread the load needed to lift the bar along the length of it. When lifted, the bar should flip up and sit vertically as shown above.

kb_flex

Next, check the state of the end of the flex cable. It is quite common for the end of the flex cable to become dog-eared during storage or handling. Make sure that the corners of the flex cable are not curled up or folded over at all. There should be a clear blue plastic strip along the rear edge of the flex cable (above left) which is essential to give the flex the correct thickness to be clamped securely by the socket. Ensure this blue strip is in place and not curled up. The electrical contacts along the front edge of the flex (above right) can easily be covered with grease or dirt from handling so if in doubt, gently wipe the contacts with IPA (isopropyl alcohol). These contacts are printed onto the plastic surface and can be wiped off if cleaned roughly so be very gentle.

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Now you are ready to insert the flex cable but don’t use any kind of hard tool to do this like a spudger or screwdriver. Doing this can damage the tracks in the flex cable rendering the keyboard useless. This has happened in the photo above and as can be seen, one of the tracks has been scratched through completely. Some models have a black plastic tab attached to the back of the keyboard flex which acts like a boot strap and this should be used to ‘pull’ the flex into the socket. If there is no tab, just used your fingers. If the flex will not go into the socket easily then one of the following has probably happened :

  • The flex is not aligned with the socket correctly
  • There is dirt of fluff in the socket
  • The corner of the flex is folded over
  • The clamping bar is not fully lifted

Once the flex is inserted as far as it will go and is sitting straight, push the clamping bar down but again, don’t use a tool for this; gently push it down along it’s length with your finger.

Lastly, remember to re-connect the tiny orange flex from the backlight sheet to the logic board as this is easily forgotten.

Hopefully these tips will help you avoid some painful mistakes and if you need any parts or tools for your repair, scoot on over to The Bookyard.

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