18 Jan 2017
The brouhaha over Apple’s latest MacBook Pro seems to be louder and more sustained than the typical backlash to a new Apple product. The common theme is a sense of disappointment that the long-awaited new top-of-the-line “developer” machine does not meet expectations. While I’ve never owned a MacBook, I figure it’s the perfect time to share my seemingly unique gripe: keyboard backlighting makes no sense.
No one needs a backlit keyboard
Let us assume that there is a person and their laptop. Now, please, friend, let us enumerate all possibilities in which light-up keys on said laptop could play a factor:
- The person is capable of touch typing. The person does not need to look at the keyboard.
- The person looks at the keyboard while operating the laptop.
- A light source illuminates the laptop. The person can see the keyboard without backlighting.
- The person and laptop are in darkness.
- The laptop’s screen is on. The screen illuminates the keyboard, and thus the person can see the keyboard without backlighting.
- The laptop’s screen is off. Keyboard backlighting cannot aid in the operation of the laptop while the screen is off.
So we see that there is no situation in which keyboard backlighting serves a vital function.
Not only does keyboard backlighting not provide an actual benefit, it has drawbacks, as well. Just like any feature that doesn’t need to be there, backlighting requires extra hardware — more parts, more weight, more things that could break. On top of that, lighting up those keys is another drain on the laptop’s battery.
Now, of course the backlight itself is not a major factor in any of these aspects, but it’s not a feature that comes for free. Are light-up keys worth it on a laptop, a form factor that is extremely sensitive to issues of weight and battery life?
You may, at this point, be wondering why I care about this at all. There are non-MacBook laptops, after all, and I don’t have to use keyboard backlighting if it’s available. Well, let me now direct my ire toward laptop manufacturers.
Please try to find a modern laptop without keyboard backlighting. It’s not easy! Apple’s absurd financial success and cultural context as a manufacturer of trendy, premium products has seduced other laptop manufacturers into copying the MacBook whenever possible:
Not only have these manufacturers lost the will to come up with original designs, they’re not the most competent copycats. I have used at least two laptops from different manufacturers that can’t seem to remember between reboots that I have turned keyboard backlighting off (thinking on it, maybe the annoyance of this misfeature is why I’m writing this post at all…).
The really sad thing is that I can’t even blame these companies for adding keyboard backlighting to their laptops. People actually want it! I have seen laptop reviews that specifically called out the lack of keyboard backlighting as a major problem. Have people deluded themselves so much? Am I the wrong one?
The no-backlight challenge
Hey, you, reading this right now. Is your keyboard shining like a beacon trying to summon extraterrestrial life? I invite you to take this challenge:
Turn it off. Turn off the backlight on your keyboard for a while. For an hour, or a day, or maybe even a week, try using your keyboard au naturel. Use it as an opportunity to reflect on your unexamined beliefs and biases. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in here somewhere.
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