Last updated: 2 months ago
Magic Keyboard describes three different Apple products, all with scissor-switch keys. It can refer to a Bluetooth keyboard accessory, the updated keyboard on the latest MacBooks, or a keyboard for the iPad Pro that makes Apple's tablet significantly more laptop-like.
● Uses scissor-switch mechanism
● Redesigned to replace the butterfly mechanism
● 1mm travel distance
● Apple-designed rubber dome with glass-filled nylon joints
Apple uses the term Magic Keyboard to describe multiple products. These include a Bluetooth keyboard Apple makes for desktop Mac users, the company's latest MacBook keyboards, and a premium keyboard/trackpad accessory for the iPad Pro.
The defining feature they all share is an updated scissor-switch design that combines thinness, a short (1mm) travel distance, and stability.
Magic Keyboard (wireless iMac accessory)
Apple released the Magic Keyboard in October 2015. It's a sleek standalone keyboard accessory that connects to both Apple and non-Apple devices over Bluetooth. On its back is a Lightning port, used for charging and initial pairing.
Apple sells the keyboard primarily as a Mac desktop add-on: If you're using it with a Mac, all you have to do is plug the other end of the Lightning cable into a Mac's USB port, and the keyboard will pair automatically for wireless use. The keyboard will also pair with iPads, iPhones, and even Windows PCs or Android devices – virtually any device that can pair with a Bluetooth keyboard.
In addition to standard letters and numbers, the keyboard also has a row of function keys and arrow keys. The arrows have full-sized left and right buttons, differing from the inverted-T shape you'll find on the other two uses of the Magic Keyboard brand name.
While its predecessor (called the Apple Wireless Keyboard) used AA batteries, this latest model switched to an internal battery. By removing the battery compartment, Apple made the product thinner all-around. The thickest point on its wedge design is 0.43 inches.
This accessory marked the debut of Apple's modern take on the scissor-style key mechanism. Their travel distance (about 1mm) is shorter than that of Apple's pre-2015 (also scissored) keyboards.
The keyboard's small size makes it portable enough for sliding into a case or backpack. Since it charges via Lightning, iPhone owners on the go — perhaps using it to type on an iPhone or iPad — could charge it without packing an extra cable.
Unlike the other two versions of the Magic Keyboard, this standalone keyboard for Macs does not have backlit keys.
For those who work on lots of spreadsheets or other financial applications, Apple also offers an elongated and slightly more expensive Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. As its name suggests, it adds a number pad to the right of the standard configuration. Everything else is identical to its sibling.
Apple sells both the numeric and non-numeric Magic Keyboard accessories on their own, and the company also bundles the standard version with the iMac and iMac Pro. Apple sells the standard keyboard individually in the silver configuration pictured here. The company also offers a space gray model of the numeric-keypad keyboard for individual sale, along with a black-and-silver variant of the standard keyboard that's only bundled with the Mac Pro.
Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro
After years of speculation, Apple added full cursor support to iPadOS in early 2020. The Apple hardware that brings these new laptop-like capabilities to life is the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and its built-in trackpad.
Like the two other uses of the Magic Keyboard branding, the iPad Pro's keyboard uses scissor-switch keys with a 1mm travel distance.
Though some users may nitpick about the lack of an escape key and function keys, the keyboard provides a typing experience that's much closer to typing on a current-generation MacBook than on the fabric-covered Apple Smart Keyboard.
This latest keyboard adds a glass trackpad that works with iPadOS' new multitouch trackpad gestures. Unlike recent (2015-present) MacBook trackpads, it doesn't incorporate haptics. Instead, it clicks physically. But rather than the diving-board-style trackpad hinges found on older MacBooks and non-Apple laptops (where you need to press harder to click on some areas), this iPad trackpad clicks evenly no matter where you press it.
The keyboard accessory automatically connects to the iPad Pro through the tablet's Smart Connector. A magnetic mount holds the iPad in place, allowing users to quickly remove and reattach the tablet as they switch back-and-forth from tablet mode to laptop mode. The design of the hinge and mount create the visual effect of the iPad floating above the keyboard.
Like MacBooks, this iPad Pro accessory has backlit keys. You can adjust the brightness level within iPadOS' keyboard settings (General > Keyboard > Hardware Keyboard).
The accessory also adds an extra USB-C port. While this one won't connect to external accessories, you can charge the iPad and keyboard through it, leaving the iPad Pro's USB-C port open for something like a portable drive, camera, external display, or ethernet adapter.
Apple sells two separate models of its latest keyboard. The smaller version is compatible with the 11-inch iPad Pro (1st and 2nd generations), while the larger model pairs with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (3rd and 4th generations).
Magic Keyboard in MacBooks
Magic Keyboard also refers to Apple's current keyboard in its MacBooks. It debuted in the 16-inch MacBook Pro in late 2019, followed by the updated MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro in early 2020. Apple's late-2020 MacBook updates with Apple Silicon also have the new keyboard.
To understand the significance of the current MacBook keyboard, you have to rewind to 2015, when Apple made a significant change to its notebooks. Starting in the first 12-inch MacBook, the company rolled out a keyboard with a new butterfly mechanism. At the time, Apple said it provided a "much more precise" typing experience that was "an amazing 40 percent thinner than a traditional keyboard scissor mechanism yet four times more stable, providing greater precision no matter where your finger strikes the key."
But it didn't take long for the butterfly keyboard's hyped rollout to transform into consumer backlash.
In striving for a short travel distance and quieter typing, Apple's butterfly design had flaws that sacrificed durability. User complaints flooded online forums — as well as Apple Genius Bars — about the butterfly keyboard's stuck or sticky keys, repeating characters, or keys that didn't work. In the 2018 MacBooks, the company added a membrane between the keys and the butterfly mechanism that helped to keep out dust and debris, which would gather under the keycaps and contribute to the problems. While this (along with an improved membrane in the 2019 models) improved the sticky-key problem to a degree, user complaints persisted.
In 2018, Apple attempted to put MacBook customers at ease by offering a repair program that covered MacBooks with butterfly keys for up to four years after retail purchase. Perhaps foreshadowing the end of the butterfly keyboard, Apple included in this program the MacBook models (dust membrane and all) the company had just announced.
That brings us back to 2019 when Apple debuted the Magic Keyboard built into the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Ditching the problematic butterfly mechanism, it switched to Apple's take on the classic scissor-switch design (virtually identical to the key mechanism in the standalone keyboard).
While the travel distance is a little thicker than that of the butterfly keyboard (from 0.7mm up to 1mm), the new MacBook keyboards are still thin enough to honor the sleek design that had inspired the initial shift to butterfly switches. It uses an "Apple-designed rubber dome that stores more potential energy for a responsive key press," along with glass-filled nylon joints for stability.
Apple completed its phaseout of the butterfly keys when it released an updated 13-inch MacBook Pro in the spring of 2020, replacing the last of the remaining butterfly products in Apple's lineup. Today, you will find the Magic Keyboard with a scissor-switch mechanism in every MacBook Apple sells, including the late-2020 models with M1 chip.