Judge says class action over Apple's MacBook butterfly keyboards can continue

Apple’s butterfly keyboards, first released in 2015, don’t perform well, critics say.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A federal judge in California rejected Apple’s request to dismiss a class action lawsuit from customers who said it failed to address issues with the “butterfly” keyboard on its MacBook laptops.

In a ruling Monday, US District Judge Edward Davila wrote that upset MacBook customers could continue their lawsuit in part because Apple’s attempted fixes over the years, and further repair programs for the keyboards, were possible signs it did not provide an “effective fix” for the devices.

The ongoing suit is the latest ding for Apple’s new laptop keyboards. The butterfly keyboards, as they were called, were announced alongside Apple’s newest laptops in 2015, promising a thinner, yet still effective design. They were named butterfly because of how they worked. (You can watch Apple’s video about that here.) 

Soon after their launch, however, some customers learned the butterfly keys were prone to collecting dust, and of failing to register presses, or of sensing too many. The problems were vexing enough that Apple created a replacement program in 2018, while also attempting to solve the problem. 

The suit against Apple was filed in May of 2018, shortly after Apple announced the repair program.

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Apple in the meantime went back to the standard “scissor” design with its newest laptops last month, prompting praise from reviewers. The keys, CNET’s Scott Stein said, feel “more natural, and have a more generous 1mm of ‘travel’ — so when you depress the key, you actually feel it move.”

Apple attempted to have the suit dismissed, claiming in part that the customers (called “plaintiffs” in court-speak) hadn’t participated in its repair programs, and thus couldn’t prove it didn’t do enough to fix the their laptops.

“Plaintiffs sufficiently allege they have suffered an injury-in-fact: Apple’s alleged failure to repair the defective keyboards, including through the Program, has caused a concrete, particularized, and actual injury to each Plaintiff,” Davila wrote in the opinion, earlier reported on by Reuters. “Plaintiffs sufficiently plead that the Program is ineffective in remedying the allegedly defective design of the butterfly keyboards.”

The judge was careful to add, however, he was not issuing ruling on the actual case Monday. He was just allowing it to move forward despite Apple’s objections.

Benjamin Johns, a lawyer representing the customers, said in a statement that he was please the court allowed the suit to continue. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.