Apple s Phil Schiller On Reinventing The New MacBook Pro Keyboard

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id="article-body" class="row" section="article-body"> Apple's marketing chief, Phil Schiller, talks about the MacBook Pro's new redesigned keyboard. 

James Martin/CNET The fastest way to get hardcore MacBook users on a rant is to ask them about the butterfly keyboard. Love it or hate it, Apple fans have passionate opinions about the company's decision to use a mechanism with a hinge in the middle that gives the keyboard its name. But the new 16-inch MacBook Pro, announced Wednesday, comes with an new keyboard that could change the conversation entirely.

The butterfly keyboard, unveiled with Apple's 12-inch MacBook for 2015, drew criticism for its less-than-pleasing tactile sensation and for quality-control issues that left some people frustrated by doubled or dropped letters as they typed. Apple said it's improved the keyboard, now in its third generation, and is offering a replacement program.  CNET Editor Scott Stein says it's not quite like the old-school MacBook keyboard in his first take. "Think of the new MacBook Pro keyboard as a happy medium between the two," he says. 

Now playing: Watch this: Has the new MacBook Pro finally fixed Apple's keyboard... 9:04 The new MacBook Pro, which replaces the 15-inch version, is Apple's most direct response to the backlash. The company has taken the scissor mechanism of its standalone Magic Keyboard and used it to power the keyboard in its new laptop. The hope is that this new keyboard will appease the professionals Apple wants to win back.

The challenge, says Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller, was taking the best of the Magic Keyboard, an accessory designed for desktop computers such as the upcoming Mac Pro, which launches in December, and adapting and evolving it for the new notebook.

"People sometimes underestimate how much work goes into a keyboard, and that's why most keyboards in the industry don't change for 10 or 20 years," Schiller said in an interview. "We decided that while we were advancing the butterfly keyboard, we would also -- specifically for our pro customer -- go back and really talk to many pro customers about what they most want in a keyboard and did a bunch of research. The team took the time to do the work to investigate, research, explore and reinvent."

Schiller spoke to me ahead of the MacBook launch about the new keyboard, whether it will show up in future products and his vision for where the Mac and iPad are going. Here's an edited version of our conversation.

Q: Walk me through the feedback you got on the butterfly keyboard and how that informed the new scissor-based keys.
Schiller: As you know, a number of years ago we started a new keyboard technology with this butterfly keyboard and began it with MacBook. It had some things it did really well, like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more firm and flat under your finger --  some people really like that, but other people weren't really happy with that. We got sort of a mixed reaction. We had some quality issues we had to work on. Over the years we've been refining that keyboard design, and we're now on the third generation, and a lot of people are much happier with that as we've advanced and advanced it.

The new MacBook Pro has a keyboard using a different mechanism than the standard butterfly design of other MacBooks. 

Sarah Tew/CNET But a few years back, we decided that while we were advancing the butterfly keyboard, we would also -- specifically for our pro customer -- go back and really talk to many pro customers about what they most want in a keyboard and did a bunch of research. That's been a really impressive project, the way the engineering team has gotten into the physiology of typing and the psychology of typing -- what people love.

As we started to investigate specifically what pro users most wanted, a lot of times they would say, "I want something like this Magic Keyboard, I love that keyboard." And so the team has been working on this idea of taking that core technology and adapting it to the notebook, which is a different implementation than the desktop keyboard, and that's what we've come up with [for] this new keyboard. We're doing both in advancing the butterfly keyboard, and we're creating this new Magic Keyboard for our Pro notebooks.

What work went into getting the Magic Keyboard into a laptop design?
To make this new scissor mechanism work appropriately in a notebook, we had to adapt it to the angle, which is different in a notebook than in a slanted desktop design for ergonomics. And it had to work in a design that had a backlight, which the notebook has that desktops do not.

While the team was doing it, they discovered there were some things we liked about the butterfly keyboard, like the way it created this whole stable key platform at the top. We wanted to enhance the switch mechanism to support that kind of a feel, and we learned a little bit about the acoustics and the psychology of what is pleasing when you click a key. We had to advance the rubber dome design underneath the key to create the right feel and pressure. We had to increase the travel in the notebook back to about a millimeter because a lot of pros like a little bit longer travel, yet fit it into a thin and light design.

We just learned more along the way and wanted to further advance the technology. Phil Schiller Throughout the process, the team reexamined the ideal size key cap -- you can make it too big, and there's not much space between them -- and people felt that that we wanted to provide a little more space between the keys than the butterfly mechanism has for optimal feel for professional typists.

There's a bunch of learning that happened. Some because of moving the desktop keyboard to the notebook and some because we just learned more along the way and wanted to further advance the technology.

Will this keyboard find its way to other MacBooks? There are folks who don't need the power of the MacBook Pro, but may appreciate the tactile experience.
I can't say today. We are continuing both keyboard designs.

How hard would it be to put the new keyboard into a slimmer design?
Keyboards in general are a lot of work. People sometimes underestimate how much work goes into a keyboard, and that's why most keyboards in the industry don't change for 10 or 20 years. Adapting that to a notebook is more work. It's not impossible, but it's definitely a lot of work.

The butterfly keyboard got lots of negative feedback and its share of bad press. How did you take that feedback?
We love these things and we know our customers love them, and so people get very passionate on all sides of these things. When we get feedback on products, and [what] I think the team deserves a lot of credit for, is always stepping back, not overreacting --  spending the time to do the work, to study and make sure we understand what most customers think.

There's always something to learn to make a product better, no matter what the feedback, and so what can we do to make it better? Can we make it better along the lines of what we already have, or do we need to go in another direction -- and for who? The team took the time to do the work to investigate research, explore and reinvent. The team has learned a lot over the last few years in this area.

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