Some MacBook Pro (and MacBook) owners have experienced problems with the keyboard, trackpad, speakers, USB-C, and more. Here’s what to do if you’ve been affected, and how to fix the problems if you have.
The MacBook Pro has been plagued with hardware issues since it was redesigned in 2016. On top of folk complaining about everything from USB-C limitations to a paltry 16GB memory ceiling, several more concerning hardware issues have come to light – in particular a flaw that could mean your MacBook keyboard stops working.
Below we take a look at the biggest, strangest and most awkward problems that have been reported with the MacBook Pro 2016, explaining how to tell if you’re affected, and what to do if you are.
The most common problem appears to be an issue where the keyboard stops working. In fact this issue is so widespread that a petition calling for Apple to replace the keyboard in “every MacBook Pro since late 2016” has been signed by more than 26,000 people and a class action lawsuit has been filed against the company over the keyboard failings.
MacBook Pro keyboard not working
Since Apple introduced the butterfly mechanism keyboard with the MacBook in 2015, and the MacBook Pro in 2016, a number of users have reported problems with keys repeating characters and other keys not working.
Commonly users are finding that a particular MacBook or MacBook Pro keyboard key has stopped working. In the worst case scenarios, users have found that the spacebar or shift key have stopped working.
The incidences of this have been widespead enough for a class action lawsuit to be filed against Apple on behalf of two people who’s MacBook Pro keyboards stopped working.
The lawsuit alleges that Apple “promoted and sold laptops it knew were defective in that they contain a keyboard that is substantially certain to fail prematurely,” and demands that Apple recognises the flaw and covers the cost of remedying or replacing affected Mac laptops.
The affected laptops include MacBook and MacBook Pro models outlined below.
If you are based in the United States, you can sign up for the MacBook Class Action Lawsuit here. You must have purchased “a model year 2015 or later Apple MacBook, or a model year 2016 or later MacBook Pro laptop, equipped with a “butterfly” keyboard.”
The lawsuit follows a petition of more than 26,000 signatures. The petition (which you can sign here) was started by Matthew Taylor on change.org.
The petition suggests that Apple should “recall every MacBook Pro released since Late 2016, and replace the keyboards on all of them with new, redesigned keyboards that just work.”
“Every one of Apple’s current-gen MacBook Pro models, 13in and 15in, is sold with a keyboard that can become defective at any moment due to a design failure,” claims Taylor.
What’s causing the fault with MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards?
It is thought that a spec of dust can render some MacBook or MacBook Pro keyboards useless. It seems that dust and small particles can get stuck under keys and the spacebar, making them unresponsive.
The problem appears to be related to the ‘butterfly’ mechanism (used on the MacBook since 2015 and MacBook Pro since 2016). The ‘butterfly’ mechanism distributes the pressure on a key more evenly than the traditional ‘scissor’ mechanism. More crucially, at least in terms of design, the butterfly-style keys mean that the keyboard can be flatter, and the MacBook itself thinner.
The problem appears to be that if a spec of dust gets underneath a key it can stop the key from depressing all the way – and that can stop the key from registering.
It appears that Apple is already looking for ways to address the issue in future keyboard design. As we mention in our article looking at the rumours about the 2018 MacBook Pro, Apple has filed a keyboard related patent that outlines ways to stop spilt fluid, crumbs and dust from blocking key movement and damaging the circuitry.
How to fix a MacBook or MacBook Pro faulty keyboard
Some users report being a little heavy-handed when typing, or even hammering the faulty key many times with your finger, can cure the issue.
Apple itself recommends using compressed air to blow the dust from under the affected key (as per this support document).
However, the problem with the MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards mentioned in the lawsuit above is that if hammering the keys, or using compressed air is unsuccessful, the dust cannot be removed without removing the entire keyboard. It is not possible to take individual keys out to clean the keyboard as it used to be with older models.
In fact, it’s not just the keyboard that must be removed but also the battery, frame and ports – a repair that can only be performed by an Apple service professional.
Wondering what a MacBook keyboard replacement can cost? Reports indicate that the repair could run to $700 (£521) or more, if the warranty has expired. Here’s how to book an appointment at an Apple Store if you need to.
It isn’t surprising that some of those affected by unresponsive MacBook keys are calling for Apple to recognise the issue (which appears to be related to the keyboard design) and recall the affected machines.
If your MacBook isn’t one of the ones affected by the butterfly keyboard mechanism, you may be able to fix it yourself, read: How to fix a Mac.
How to tell if your MacBook or MacBook Pro has a keyboard fault
It is likely that you are being affected by the issue identified by the class action lawsuit if one or more keys have stopped working on your 2015 or later MacBook, or 2016 or later MacBook Pro.
However, there have been other issues with the MacBook Pro keyboard that seem to be unrelated to the issue being addressed by the class action lawsuit.
For example, some users have reported problems with keys making a high-pitched clicking noise when pressed, as seen in the video below. That problem seem to occur when the MacBooks get hot, but some users have reported having issues at any temperature.
MacBook Pro USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 issues
The fact that the new 2016 MacBook Pro models feature only USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and therefore require adapters to connect just about any external hardware, is old news. However, there are reports that not all USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 adapters work correctly with the 2016 MacBook Pro models.
For example, unauthorised Mac repair guy and YouTube star Louis Rossmann noted in a hands-on review (warning: includes significant bad language!) that some USB-C adapters not only slowed down his 13in non-Touch Bar 2016 MacBook Pro but also appeared to slow or entirely kill the MacBook Pro’s Wi-Fi connection. The adapters worked perfectly with a Dell laptop.
Meanwhile, Mac developer Khaos Tian has not only discovered that some third-party Thunderbolt 3 docks don’t work with the new 2016 MacBook Pro but even got a response from somebody at Apple implying that non-Apple certified models are unlikely ever to be supported.
How to fix MacBook Pro 2016 USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 incompatibility issues
Buying only Apple’s own USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 adapters is the obvious solution. Buying third-party adaptors or docks will probably be cheaper but, as Apple says, only those certified by Apple are guaranteed to work – and there’s still relatively few of those.
If you have a Thunderbolt 3 dock that’s incompatible then Khaos Tian has detailed a hack that might fix it but it’s very technical in nature and not for beginners.
Apple might provide a future update to macOS Sierra to include support for non-compatible USB-C/Thunderbolt hardware but knowing Apple like we do – and coupled to the fact they have their own range of adapters – we wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for a fix. To be honest, if you’re affected then we reckon it’s best to bite the bullet and get new Apple-approved adapters.
MacBook Pro popping speakers
Shortly after the 2016 MacBook Pro got into users’ hands, reports of loud crackling and popping noises through the speakers started to appear on community forums. However, the noises only occur if the user boots into Microsoft Windows using Boot Camp. It does not happen if the user is booted into macOS Sierra.
Some users even reported that their MacBook Pro speakers were permanently damaged by the noises when Windows was booted, which subsequently meant the speakers no longer worked then they booted back into macOS. The right speaker in particular seems to be affected in this way.
What is causing the problem with MacBook Pro speakers?
It’s not clear if the crackles and pops are caused by a logic board issue or perhaps just poor audio drivers within Windows. The latter seems the most likely.
How to tell if your MacBook Pro 2016 has a popping speakers fault
You’ll know if you’re affected by this issue because, obviously, you’ll hear the noises described above should you boot into Windows. Interestingly, if you access Windows via virtualisation software like VMware Fusion or Parallels then the issue does not arise.
How to fix MacBook Pro 2016 with popping speakers
The issue with the Boot Camp drivers was addressed by a software update, so if you use Boot Camp to boot into Windows, make sure you run the latest version or use a different virtualisation app instead.
You could also ensure that headphones are attached via the 3.5mm audio jack before using Boot Camp to boot into Windows, as this will avoid the MacBook Pro’s speakers being used. The crackling/pops will not be heard in the headphones. Notably, users affected by the issue report that simply turning the volume control down has no effect; the loud crackling and pops continue.
If your MacBook Pro has been damaged by the crackles and pops then you should be able to make a warranty claim with Apple.
MacBook Pro overcharging via USB-C
This is a report from one individual, so very far from conclusive, and it’s also something nobody else is likely to be foolish enough to try: YouTube star EverythingApplePro wondered what would happen if you attached more than one Apple USB-C charger to both a 13-in and 15-in 2016 MacBook Pro.
The spec sheet of the new MacBook Pro models says you can charge the computer from any of its USB-C ports, and while nobody is likely to deliberately attach four separate power adapters, as EverythingApplePro ended up doing, a user might attach their regular USB-C charger while also attaching something like a Thunderbolt 3 monitor containing a USB-C hub that’s designed to provide charge to attached devices.
What happened to EverythingApplePro’s computers? Both the MacBook Pros made the acknowledgement sound that accompanies a charger being attached, and the menu bar icon changed to indicate charging was happening, but the charging menu said the battery wasn’t being charged. Rather worryingly, this state of affairs persisted even after EverythingApplePro dropped back to just a single charger, and even after he then rebooted his 15-in model (he had identical results for both the 13 and 15in models, although the YouTube video doesn’t detail him attempting to reboot the 13in model; no, we’ve no idea how these YouTube stars can afford all this hardware only to then destroy it).
How to tell if your MacBook Pro is ‘overcharging’ or has been overcharged
You’ll know if you’re affected by this issue because your MacBook Pro won’t charge if you have something attached to more than one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port.
How to fix MacBook Pro overcharging problems
With the scarcity of information provided by the video it’s hard to know what the charging issue actually is, and whether it persisted. Therefore we can only guess at a fix. If the issue happened with us we’d start by resetting the SMC. If the MacBook Pro still refuses to charge then a return to Apple is the only solution.
It’s possible this issue could be fixed by Apple in a future firmware upgrade for the 2016 MacBook Pro range. Until then, we advise you to unplug the USB-C charger if attaching any hardware likely to also provide a charge, such as a Thunderbolt 3 dock or a monitor with a built-in hub.
MacBook Pro trackpad three-finger drag not working
When Apple introduced multitouch trackpads they also introduced three-finger drag, which is a gesture whereby dragging three fingers across the trackpad had the effect of instantly clicking and then dragging whatever was under the mouse cursor. Drag with three fingers across text, for example, and it would be instantly highlighted.
In more recent releases of macOS/OS X Apple has moved this feature to the Accessibility section of System Preferences, but it still works in the same way – unless you have a new 2016 MacBook Pro, that is. In particular, users report that it only works in the centre of the trackpad, or that it works with some apps but not others.
How to tell if your MacBook Pro 2016 has a faulty trackpad
You’ll know if you’re affected by this because, assuming you use three-finger drag, it simply won’t function reliably.
What’s causing the problem with three-finger drag?
macOS includes clever software to detect if the user’s palm accidentally touches the trackpad while typing and with the increased size of the trackpad in the new MacBook Pro range there’s been speculation the problem might be caused by this palm detection going awry.
How to fix MacBook Pro 2016 trackpad
As with many issues here this will probably be fixed by Apple with either a firmware update, or a future macOS update (or possibly both). Until then, all you can do is either live with the issue, or turn off three-finger drag.