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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Align the first 4 pegs to the mount. Inner 2 go in the gap and the outer 2 go under the mount.
- 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.
- Repeat for the 3rd set of 4 pegs, but rock it (stretch it) to the right.
- 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!