23rd December 2016
I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this product peeking out from a skip on the street as I was cycling through Glasgow. I have always been intrigued by just how different the Magic Keyboard looks compared with all it’s competitors, so I wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity to look inside and see what it is that makes this product so special.
Keyboard design has always confused me as it really seems to avoid any aesthetic consideration. Most are made up of bulky black keys and uncomfortable warped shapes with huge bulging wrist supports contained within heavy, boxy bodies. The Magic Keyboard is just so different from everything else out there! The beauty behind the product comes from the fact that it has embraced the standard rectangular and structured layout of the QWERTY and used it to create a simple and inviting aesthetic - instead of exaggerating shapes or creating visual discomfort for supposed ‘ergonomic’ gain. I suspect that some interesting discoveries will be made as I get under the skin of something that appears so simple at first glance.
Curious about why this product had been thrown away, I thought I should make an attempt to see if - before tearing it apart - I could bring it back to life. This didn’t take long as all I had to do was remove the battery cap and find that the batteries had leaked inside, unfortunately fusing them to the aluminium. Is this another reason for the Magic Keyboard 2 having a built in rechargeable battery? After drilling the batteries to get them out (not to be advised for safety reasons) the first question that came to mind was “how is the circuit completed”? The answer was very typical Apple. Having both the batteries facing the same direction, the cap acts to complete the circuit by connecting to the negative terminal of the battery and diverting the current back along a conductive sleeve inside the tube. A small detail but it does remove the need for any wiring to connect the batteries.
The first step of the teardown was to try and remove the backplate. This was a lot harder than I had expected, thanks to the quantity of glue that was holding the plate in place. I believe that for environmental reasons, the Magic Keyboard 2 doesn’t use any glue and instead replaces the need by cleverly concealing screws under the rubber feet. The reward for eventually removing the piece did not merit the effort that went into it as practically nothing was revealed to me apart from the aluminium support board that all the keys are fixed to. Clearly, all the important aspects of this product were going to be hidden below the keys.
I remove a number of keys to examine the mechanism below them. Obviously they all use Apple’s scissor mechanism, but it is interesting to notice the different variations throughout.
Having unfortunately spend some time in the university library without headphones, I have realised just how important a quiet key press can be - the noise generated by 50 or so students furiously typing up work on DELL keyboards is quite astonishing. Combining the scissor mechanism with a small cushion of air isn’t something that is only seen in the Magic Keyboard but it is the way in which Apple have perfectly engineering the travel distance so that no hard contact is made between surfaces that helps to silence the typing - even when exposed to fairly harsh button bashing
Interesting to notice the additional spring mounts on the larger keys for a more stable key press. I wonder if these are still necessary with the new butterfly mechanism in the MacBook and MacBook Pro???
With all the keys removed, it is time to return to the underside and see if I can strip away anymore. The support plate is fixed to the aluminium body at more than 90 different points which, while it gives a very solid construction, forces me to take a rough approach in remove it. Thankfully I am rewarded by the removal of this piece as it allows me to access the different layers contained within the keyboard.
Removing the thin sheet with the individual air pockets really gives us an insight into how the product comes together.
The printed circuit which is sandwiched between the keys and backplate is almost a piece of beauty on it’s own. It appears to be two different sheets pressed together, with junctions to link up the circuit. This reminds me of why I enjoy the teardown process so much. Getting the chance to see how all the internal components are linked together and imagine how they all communicate with each other as you interact with them. It really adds another level to the user experience, when I use similar products.
Identifying where the wiring is denser leads me to discover the small LED used to signify CAPS LOCK.
Time to get inside the real heart of the product. I remove the transmitter cover to see where the magic happens.
Quite amazing to see how the somewhat messy arrangement of wires under the keys is channelled into 24 simple connections to the main board.
Finally! A screw holding something in place and not more glue.
One of my favourite aspects, although not something specific to Apple, is the connector clamp on the main board. Such a simple mechanism that ensures a strong and robust connection.
Here we see one of the most beautiful pieces of industrial design I’ve ever seen. The simple connection to the mainboard allows all the working components to be contained within a cylindrical support that simply slips into the aluminium body.
The experience of removing the circuit board from it’s fixture is somewhat aesthetic. A dedicated fixing for each component with a simple snap fit allows me to remove everything without having to break any solder connections. From an assembly perspective, this product really can’t be faulted.
Being something that is unique to the Magic Keyboard, it seems appropriate to take some time to appreciate the beauty of the aluminium unibody construction. Holding the piece in your hand, it has such a solid feel - very important when we consider how many other keyboards have such a hollow plastic feel.
Becoming common place for Apple products - thanks to their vast array of CNC Mills - we can see how the different pieces are shaped from a block of raw aluminium. The intricacies within the cylinder are quite amazing, with registration holes for the circuit board fixings and the slit along the edge that allows all the cables to feed seamlessly into the aluminium.
I mentioned at the start of this post that I expected to make some interesting discoveries that would contradict the simple exterior of the Magic Keyboard. The discoveries that I made along the way didn’t contradict the simple aesthetic but instead carried along the same route of simplicity. Every layer that I peeled away combined comfortable structure with a lightweight feel and from a teardown point of view, the clear layout of every component allowed me to understand everything that was happening internally. Once again, the Apple fanboy within me is tapped into as I witness the beauty that runs right to the core of every piece within the product. It is easy to see why more recent Apple product launches have featured manufacturing shorts and elegant graphics of exploded products. By showing how every piece of a product has been given due consideration really highlights the value behind Apple products and is very honest in showing the customer what lies inside the product they’re buying.