Dear Sirs,

I want to bring to you’re attention a terrible design floor in the MacBook Air laptop: Its power switch.

Unlike the MacBoook Pro that it replaced, someone at Apple placed the on/off switch as part of the keyboard. This is a terrible idea. It makes the laptop that much less usable, less efficient and less pleasant to work with. To be blunt, it represents a terrible compromise of utility for the sake of symmetry and appearances.

It is very unApple like.

I don’t care of you are the world’s greatest typist, eventually, you will accidentally brush this key with your right hand pinkie or ring finger. If you are lucky, you can flip the lid closed, wait a few beats, reopen it, and then enter your password. If the silicon Gods are smiling on you, you can proceed normally. Most of the time, however, you must reboot the entire machine, while muttering “WTF was Jony Ive thinking?” under your breath.

Genius? Hardly.

Making the matter worse, there is no software over ride. I cannot program this key to require a “2 second hold” before taking effect, or even a double click – just the merest wisp of an errant touch ends my session of work.

The good news is twofold: Its a solid state machine, so it reboots quickly. And, when the reboot comes up, all of your work seems to have been saved. In other words, this terrible hardware design is made less painful by an excellent software design.

Thank goodness for small favors.

The on/off is immediately above the very commonly used delete/backspace key, thereby making this error all but inevitable, and revealing its inventor as utterly clueless about Human ergonomics. What makes this so stunning is it comes from a company that, since my MacClassic in 1989, seemed to anticipate, rather than thwart, my intentions.

I have two new laptops to buy for work in January, and while my original plan was to add more MacBook Airs, this flaw makes that much less likely to occur.

Note this was typed on an iMac, which means that I actually go to finish it in one streak, without being interrupted by a poorly designed, poorly placed on off key.

Here’s hoping you get your shit together soon,


Barry Ritholtz



Designed in California by people who apparently have never typed . . .




Category: Really, really bad calls, Technology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

46 Responses to “Apple MacBook Air Design Flaw”

  1. EntropySink says:

    Couldn’t agree more about the design flaw, but I’d argue this is totally consistent with Apple’s demonstrated historical willingness to put form above function: needlessly recessed headphone jacks in earlier iPhone models; the goddamn single-button mouse; the redesigned power connector for newer MacBooks (at least you can get adapters for these); going with a proprietary Lightning adapter for iPhone instead of the ubiquitous micro USB which *everyone* has (and the cables are 3X pricier). They get a lot right, but a stubborn preference for visual purity leads to bad tradeoffs. I hope they find a visually-acceptable solution for the next model (assuming they agree it’s a *problem*…)

  2. Eric Original says:

    My daughter just got a brand new MacBook Pro, and it’s the same way. She says she never hits it. Maybe it’s just us old farts with the fat fingers. Of course, I’m a luddite, typing happily away on a 6 year old iMac, so…

    • ottnott says:

      My 1-yr old MB Pro has the same key layout. If I do a quick tap on the on/off, nothing happens. If I press it like I mean it, it brings up a dialog box asking if I’m sure I want to shut down and giving me other options.

      I suspect that the problem is occurring when Barry keeps his finger on the key and hits it multiple times (as one would when deleting multiple characters). The default option in the dialog box is “shut down”, so multiple hits might trigger the shut down. I’m going to test that after submitting this comment.

    • ottnott says:

      Barry’s computer might be functioning incorrectly (unless it is a difference between the MB Air and the MB Pro).

      I cannot get the computer to shut down simply by tapping the on/off key. Unless I use the mouse or the “enter/return” key to select the “shut down” option, the dialog box remains open and waiting for my instructions.

      Which raises the possibility that one of the things Barry does often is to delete a bunch of characters and then hit “enter/return”.

      I’ve never had the problem on the MB Pro.

  3. 4whatitsworth says:

    I hate all this so called innovation for innovations sake. If you want another example of product development gone wrong you should try the new Gmail! This was my rant on state of IT Innovation.

    All I want for Christmas is to get my job done quickly without technology getting in the way.

  4. BennyProfane says:

    ““WTF was Jony Ive thinking?””

    I said that (well, I didn’t know it was him at the time) when the first IMac hit the market, you know, with that circular, or “puck” mouse at the time. My hand and arm almost started hurting immediately at first use. Macnally made a mint on replacement mice, and, they still seem to filling a market by replacing present day Apple “genius” designed hardware components.

    One of the most overhyped designers ever. I don’t think he knows the meaning of the term ergonomics. I’ll bet most of the elegance of Apple products is due to Jobs slapping people around when they tried to add stuff.

  5. BigBlueCrab says:

    Hate to state the obvious, but don’t think Steve would have overlooked this glaring mistake. I’ve always used Macs, but this terrible design is obvious, even to those without any design sense. I’m surprised this got through QC….

  6. Dogfish says:

    I’m amazed there isn’t an option to change it’s behavior. I have a MacBook Pro for work, where it’s nice round inset power button is in the corner, removed enough from the keyboard where I won’t accidentally press it.

    For home, I’m solidly a PC guy, with a rather large full tower (NZXT Phantom 820… which I have been exceedingly pleased with). I have to open a front door to access any of the case buttons… and I still have the “hold for 5 seconds” option selected for the power button’s behavior in the BIOS.

  7. yon’ QOTD..

    “An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be.” -Anonymous

    might be that those ‘Designed in Cupertino’-boyz went the same Engineering-Skool that “Anonymous”, above is referencing..

    Point being, an Engineering knows, given our Environment, the ‘Glass’ is always Full, the only Question is: of what?
    tho, more toward your ‘Plaint, you may consider, whether, it is a ‘Feature’, or a ‘Bug’..

    I’ll let others ‘get into it’, if they choose, but, there are ‘Benefits’ in having the User /have to/ re-boot the Machine..

  8. billo says:

    I completely agree that the “power on/off” key is dumb.

    But it’s hard to call it un-Apple-like. Apple had been hell bent on cramming it’s keyboard into a function-follows-form universe for years. Jobs always said “design is how it works, not how it looks,” but there are innumerable examples where Apple has favored appearance over utility, and they show little sign of letting up. (iOS 7 turning buttons into text, sharp, painful “handles” on mac pro, new mac pro shaped like a soup can at the expense of all field upgradability, 4th gen iPod nano that was too small for any adult fingers to use one-handed, etc.)

    I wish they would pull back on the Dieter Rams love affair just a little, but I’m not holding my breath.

    P.S. if you tap the power button by mistake, just tap it again; you’ll only have to type your password to unlock the screen.



  9. BillGates says:

    Thanks Barry. We’ll be looking to implement this flaw into Win8.2. I agree this is annoying, and especially irksome coming from Apple – the company that does most things right (you’d expect it to be a Windows feature) but hitting the power button is only putting your MacBook to sleep. Then again, if you are in the middle of a download or perhaps copying files, I can see it would be an issue. Pressing any other key or clicking the mouse wakes it back up again in an instant. If enough people complain to Apple, maybe they will make an adjustment – perhaps making the key programmable.

    Please see


    • WallaWalla says:

      Sadly, Lenovo’s departure from their classic style keyboard and declining build quality has really tarnished their image. That said, I’d still recommend their products for die-hard windows users.

  10. wrongtrade says:

    And on my iPhone, when using the “New Message” screen for texts, the “Cancel” button is right on top of the “+” sign to add an addressee. Am I the only one who has finished a text and then with the slightest phat finger while walking or sitting on public transportation- GONE!

  11. jpmist says:

    WTF? I’ve owned two Airs since they first came out and I have never once hit the on/off key by accident. Seriously, never. . .

    That said, if you’re going to make the point that Apple gets too cute with it’s design, I’d agree. When I got their first wireless keyboard to go with my Mini, it took me ten minutes to figure out which way to put the batteries in. I know there’s a 12 point sized graphic there to show you but you have to know where Apple hit it to see it.

    And now that I’ve double checked, when I do hit the off key, I get a menu asking me if I’m sure I want to shut down my computer, so I can back out of turning it off. I’m on 10.8.5 so maybe you have the new improved feature set of 10.9

  12. Stock Soup says:

    I know you’re in the Apple ecosystem, but if any of your crew is not, why not go for a touchscreen laptop

    tada…. the Samsug Ativ Book 9

    • Because over the years, I have grown to despise Windows

    • > Because over the years, I have grown to despise Windows

      So did I over a 20 year period . . . however, that’s starting to change with some of the newer systems being rolled out including that Samsung above. BUT, if someone is going to go this route I’d suggest a Microsoft store, partly for support, partly because machines purchased here aren’t gummed up with third party software.

  13. gcman6 says:

    I don’t have a new macbook air but when you push the power button does it shut off right away or does it bring up a box asking you if you really want to shut off/restart the computer? My 4 year old macbook pro brings up the box.

  14. pdzxc says:

    Everything is Amazing & Nobody’s Happy, by Louis CK:

  15. mpetrosian says:

    Hey, is that button causing all kinds of other typing issues, because BR has a bunch of grammar mistakes in his post? Of course the button was moved to make the Air more air like. it’s a trade off I guess. I bet you still by another one.

  16. phisqb says:

    I agree with EntropySink that this is typical of the dichotomy of Apple. Their power cord is microcosm of their whole philosophy. On one end, their power cord is the most brilliant thing ever: magnetic and symmetrical so it doesn’t break the computer when you innevitably start walking away and forget to pull the cable out of the machine. On the other end, the cord is dumb as rocks. A huge, heavy square that readily falls out of the wall and that is not even possible to plug into a horizontally oriented outlet. They repeat this pattern over and over from their walled garden (AOL) approach to content, to making it impossible to find the damn window you were just working on, to not enabling drag ‘n’ drop in early versions of iTunes, and on and on and on and on…I hate crApple for all of the above and much, much more.

  17. Roger Bigod says:

    I have a new MacBook Pro running Mavericks, and a single tap on the on/off key just puts it to sleep.
    Another tap and it comes back instantly.

    The most annoying feature is the absence of up and down arrows on text windows. I was used to sticking articles in TextEdit and clicking in the side bar to advance one page. One click motion requiring no movement of mouse. Now there are multiple ways — two-finger swipe, repeated down key, fn + down key, adjusting position indicator in side bar. But all of them require interrupting reading to pay attention to the interface. This is the kind of aesthetic fascism we’ve learned to put up with .

  18. Wayne The Philosopher says:

    Barry …. Do you actually use the Macbook Air?

    If you accidentally press your finger on the off/on key for less than a second,
    all that will happen is that the display will shut off while the computer.
    Tap that key again and the display will come back on.
    No big deal.
    No lost data.

    But what if I press my finger on the off/on key for a couple of seconds?
    You will be presented a menu box that asks you if you really want to shut down the computer.
    Just click ‘cancel’.
    No big deal.
    No lost data.

    You have to press your finger on the off/on key for A FULL TEN SECONDS before the computer shuts down.
    How often does that happen?
    And, as you concede, even if it did, you won’t lose any data anyway.

    So, why exactly is the off/on key a design flaw? …


  19. petessake says:

    Sumpthin else is wrong. Every time I hit the on/off button the computer a window pops up asking: Are you sure you want to shut down your computer now? The window has 4 buttons: restart, sleep, cancel, and shut down. My MacBook Air is 1 month old. Perhaps there is a setting whereby one can bypass this “warning”; perhaps there is a small, annoying software glitch.

  20. ottnott says:

    Barry – the data (comments by other readers) indicate that you have a computer that is not functioning the way it was designed to function.

    While the keyboard design allows the fault to become an important issue, the solution is to replace the computer rather than to redesign the keyboard.

    Follow the data, as BR might say.

  21. tooktheredpill says:

    Its often a love hate relationship with Apple. Ive owned an air for about 3 years and its the best laptop to travel with but hate the closed system attitude and how it disables java silently if it thinks its a security risk with no option but to upgrade. When the ram dies its a new mobo too.

  22. [...] usually excellent Barry Ritholtz posted a massive rant against the location of the power switch on his MacBook Air laptop, ending with the promise to [...]

  23. Jason G. says:

    Hey Barry-

    I have a Macbook Air too, and thought this was some weird config setting that you had set wrong. Until I tested it by pressing the power button, and my laptop instantly went to sleep. All those years of typing classes in high school apparently paid off, because I have not hit that button accidentally prior to your post…

    Holy crap, when did that start happening? This is apparently new as of Mavericks. It used to give you a prompt asking what you wanted to do.

    I found this as a potential fix:

    There is a link to a binary command line program near the end of the article (search for “binary version”). I tried it on my laptop and it works great. You just need to run it every time you restart your laptop, or more likely, every time you reboot and then accidentally hit the power button. If you’re sufficiently technical, you could also set up a root cron task (I did that for my laptop).

    It’s not for the feint of heart though – download a binary executable from some guy on the internet, set up a root cron task… it would be better if Apple fixed it, but if you’re pulling your hair out from this stupid behavior, this is at least an option.

    Best of luck,

  24. Jason G. says:

    Apparently there is now an official option available in the 10.9.2 update…

    Here is a way to disable sleeping when pressing the power button on 10.9.2. In Terminal, type in the following command and then press Enter.

    defaults write PowerButtonSleepsSystem -bool no

    This causes the ‘Are you sure you want to shut down your computer now?’ dialog to come up much quicker too.