When Apple introduced the 12-inch MacBook in April 2015, the machine was the thinnest Mac ever, with a tapered design that starts at a mere 3.5 mm and grows only to 13.1 mm. A change from previous laptop models that made such an incredibly thin design possible was a new keyboard that swapped a scissor-style switch under each key for a new “butterfly mechanism” that’s 40 percent thinner.
In October 2016, Apple started using a second generation of the so-called “butterfly” keyboard in the MacBook Pro line. Then, in July 2018, Apple updated the keyboard to a third-generation design that added a thin silicone membrane under each key to protect from dust and other foreign objects. That third-generation keyboard made its way into the MacBook Air released in October 2018. Then, in May 2019, Apple once again updated the keyboard in the latest models of the MacBook Pro, telling journalists that the fourth-generation design has a “materials change” in the mechanism.
Why has Apple kept tinkering with the butterfly keyboard? Put frankly, because it has had problems. Although there are no independent estimates of what percentage of Macs equipped with butterfly keyboards are afflicted, many users have complained about keys sticking or feeling crunchy, keys failing to fire at all (so no letter is typed when the key is pressed), and keys repeating (so multiple letters are typed per keypress).
In fact, in June 2018, just before the third-generation design appeared in the MacBook Pro, Apple acknowledged that “a small percentage” of first- and second-generation butterfly keyboards were affected and launched a repair program to fix them for free, even if they were out of warranty. (The fact that a class-action suit surrounding the butterfly keyboards was filed against Apple in May 2018 might have been related.)
Alas, the silicone membrane didn’t resolve all the issues, and after the E and R keys on her MacBook Pro failed, influential tech journalist Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal wrote a hilarious column entitled “Appl Still Hasn’t Fixd Its MacBook Kyboad Problm,” complete with interactive switches so you could read it with or without the various missing and duplicated letters. Plus, a repair technician tore down a MacBook Pro keyboard to show why he didn’t think dust was an issue. Apple apologized to the Wall Street Journal, saying:
We are aware that a small number of users are having issues with their third-generation butterfly keyboard and for that we are sorry. The vast majority of Mac notebook customers are having a positive experience with the new keyboard.
So when Apple released the fourth-generation butterfly keyboard with the current MacBook Pro models, the company also extended the Keyboard Service Program for MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro to cover the third-generation keyboards. The repair program lists the exact models that are covered, but it basically comes down to any 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Air models released in late 2018, and MacBook Pro models starting in 2016 and up to 2019.
What’s the practical upshot of all this for you?
If you have a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro with one of these butterfly keyboards, and it’s working properly, that’s great! Do nothing—hopefully it will keep tip, tap, typing away.
If you have one of those Macs and are having problems, contact Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider for a repair. Before you hand over any Mac for repair, make sure you have at least one and preferably two backups of your data, since Apple sometimes replaces storage devices while doing seemingly unrelated repairs.
Those of you who use a Mac laptop—a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro—probably know you can connect it to a large external display for more screen space. But sometimes it’s not convenient to have your Mac open on your desk next to the big screen. If you’d like to close your Mac’s screen and just use the external display, you can! The trick to enabling closed-display mode is that your Mac must be plugged into an AC outlet and you must connect an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad—either USB or Bluetooth. (If you’re using any Bluetooth devices, go to System Preferences > Bluetooth > Advanced and make sure “Allow Bluetooth devices to wake this computer” is selected.)
If you’re working on an iPad with a physical keyboard—either a Bluetooth keyboard or an iPad Pro with Apple’s Smart Keyboard—there are quite a few keyboard shortcuts you can use to work faster. Many are what you’d guess if you have Mac experience; for instance, Command-F generally maps to Find. But to see a list of supported keyboard shortcuts in an app, simply press and hold the Command key on the keyboard until an information panel appears. Some apps, like Calendar (shown below), even have multiple pages of shortcuts; swipe to see them all. Not all apps will display the cheat sheet, but most of Apple’s productivity apps do.
Apple has long argued that you can use the iPad for productivity but hasn’t backed that claim up with the necessary features in iOS. Until now, that is, with the new iPad-centric capabilities of iOS 11. These changes mean that an iPad running iOS 11 is more like a Mac, and that’s a good thing for those who want to do real work with their iPads.
Dock and Multitasking
The new iOS 11 Dock is easy to find at the bottom of the Home screen, just like before. But it’s better and more Mac-like than before—the left side shows apps or folders you’ve placed there by dragging them on (no need to touch and hold until icons shake anymore!) while the right side helps you get around more quickly by displaying recently used apps and any Handoff apps from your other Apple devices.
Most importantly, you can now view the Dock within any app, without the contextual shift of returning to the Home screen as in previous iOS versions. Just swipe up slightly from the bottom of the screen in any app, and the Dock appears so you can switch apps with a single tap right away.
Or—this is fabulous!—drag the app where you want to go up from the Dock to open it in Slide Over or Split View. Now you can work back and forth between two apps at once on the same screen.
Control Center and App Switcher
Switching apps with the Dock like you do on the Mac is easy, but when you invoke the App Switcher by swiping up to see the Dock and then continuing to swipe up (or by double-pressing the Home button or swiping up with four fingers), it now shows large thumbnails of the four most recent apps (or Slide Over or Split View screens) and the new Control Center. Tap one to switch to it.
Remember that you can customize the buttons that appear in Control Center—visit Settings > Control Center > Customize to make it look the way you want.
Drag and Drop
With iOS 11, Apple finally brought drag and drop to the iPad! Touch and move text, graphics, or files between apps—you can even pick up an item with a finger and use your other hand to reveal the Dock and switch to your destination app before dropping the data.
Use this maneuver in situations where you would previously have used copy and paste or the awkward Share sheet—or just given up! Practice a few times to accustom yourself to the two-handed process.
Just like the Mac, the iPad now provides a single place to browse and open all your files, and you can open a file with a single tap. All this goodness happens in the new Files app, which replaces the iCloud Drive app with a broader view of your files, providing access not just to iCloud Drive, but also to files on your device and in other cloud sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive. (To add a sharing service whose app you’ve installed, tap Edit in the left-hand Browse panel).
On iPads other than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, iOS 11 simplifies typing on the virtual keyboard. You can now type numbers and many punctuation characters by swiping down on the appropriate key, rather than switching keyboards. Swipe down to see the key turn gray and show only the desired number or character, and then lift your finger.
In iOS 11, the iPad Pro’s Apple Pencil becomes even more useful. Want to start a note? Just tap the Lock screen and start writing. Want to search your handwritten notes? Pull down on the Notes list to type your query, and Notes will find handwritten terms.
A new scanning feature in Notes makes it easy to bring a paper document into the iPad, where you can sign it with the Apple Pencil and send it on its way. We also like the new Instant Markup feature that lets you write on a PDF or screenshot easily—tap the Pencil icon at the upper right of the screen to start writing and to access the controls for color and tip below.
With iOS 11, Apple has finally acknowledged that the iPad needs its own features to be a productivity machine—it’s not just an iPhone with a larger screen. With a little practice, you can be using an iPad, particularly an iPad Pro, for all sorts of serious tasks like email, word processing, Web research, and more.
Even if you’re not buying a new iPhone this year, you can still enjoy a hefty dose of “New and Improved!” with Apple’s iOS 11, which provides a host of new capabilities. Hold on tight, there’s a lot to cover, and we have another article coming about the iPad-specific changes in iOS 11. iOS 11 will be available to download on Tuesday September 19th.
After you install iOS 11, you’ll notice a few things right off. Dock icons no longer have names, and many Apple apps now have the bold text design Apple brought to the Music and News apps in iOS 10.
Although the new Automatic Setup feature won’t help you today, when you next get a new iOS device, it can transfer many settings from an older iOS 11 device automatically. Similarly, the new Share Your Wi-Fi feature lets you send your Wi-Fi network’s password to another iOS 11 device that tries to connect.
You may not need a new iPhone or iPad anyway, since iOS 11 can help you recover precious space. Choose Settings > General > iPhone/iPad Storage and you can offload unused apps (while keeping their settings and data), delete old Messages conversations automatically, and see how much space each app consumes. Deleting music from the Music sub-screen (tap Edit) will help too.
Apple redesigned Control Center, which most people still get to by swiping up from the bottom of the screen (iPad users keep swiping up after the Dock appears, and iPhone X users will have to swipe down from the right-hand top of the screen). It’s back to a single page of icons, and you can access additional options by pressing and holding on any set of controls. Even better, you can add (and remove) controls in Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls.
The Lock screen is all you’ll see while in the car by default now, thanks to the Do Not Disturb While Driving feature. It blocks notifications and prevents you from using your iPhone while at the wheel, all while auto-replying to people who text you. Calls still come through to your car’s Bluetooth system, and texts from people designated as favorites can break through the texting cone of silence. Passengers can disable Do Not Disturb While Driving easily from a notification on the Lock screen.
Smaller Changes and App Updates
A few smaller changes that you’ll appreciate include:
Siri sounds more natural, can do translations, and uses on-device learning to understand you better and provide more useful results.
On an iPhone, a new Emergency SOS feature will call 911 and notify your emergency contacts of your location after you press the Sleep/Wake button five times quickly and swipe the Emergency SOS button. Tap Settings > Emergency SOS to set this up.
The password auto-fill feature now suggests stored login information for many apps right from the QuickType bar above the keyboard—manage this in Settings > Accounts & Passwords > App & Website Passwords.
Many of iOS 11’s built-in apps receive significant changes as well:
Camera: New file formats will make your videos and photos take up less space. There are a few new filters, and Camera can finally scan QR codes, which simplify loading Web sites, getting contact info, and connecting to Wi-Fi networks.
Photos: You can now edit the video in a Live Photo and apply looping, bouncing, and long exposure effects. Photos can at long last play animated GIFs and has a new Animated smart album to hold them.
Files: This major new app replaces the iCloud Drive app. Look in Files for access not just to iCloud Drive, but also to files on your device and in other cloud sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive.
Messages: A new app drawer at the bottom of the screen tries to entice you to use iMessage apps. Most are just stickers, but some are useful and Apple provides a new Apple Pay app here that lets you make person-to-person payments.
Maps: Apple has added indoor maps of some airports and malls to Maps. Maps also now provides lane guidance on more complicated roads.
Notes: The new Instant Notes feature make starting a note as simple as tapping the Lock screen of an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, or the optional Notes button in Control Center. A note can now look like lined paper or graph paper (tap the Share button, then tap Lines & Grids). You can also now scan a document. The idea is that you then sign it with the Apple Pencil and send it on its way. Notes can also now find text in Apple Pencil handwriting.
Take some time to explore—we’re liking these new features and we think you will too! It’s likely safe to upgrade to iOS 11 now, but check our upgrade advice first.
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