Blog Post

The Curious Case of the Missing MacBook Pro Keyboard and Trackpad

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

About three weeks ago, the keyboard and trackpad on my MacBook Pro (from mid-2007) began failing randomly for no apparent reason. I would turn it on only to find its keyboard and trackpad unresponsive to any input. Rebooting sometimes helped, but many times it did not. Without a reproducible pattern I could determine, it was impossible to know if the problem was caused by failing hardware, a software conflict, or both.

Imagine if this happened to you while you were out at a cafe or are about to give a presentation, and you’ll understand why I was near the brink of insanity. After some investigation,1 it became clear there was a fundamental design flaw present in the MacBook Pro that was causing the problem. If your MacBook Pro does not have the new unibody design, this design flaw could give you grief sooner or later.

The Symptoms

Your MacBook Pro may exhibit any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Upon waking from sleep, the keyboard and trackpad become unresponsive; log entries in OS X’s Console say “IOUSBFamily failed to enumerate a device.”
  • Booting up the MacBook Pro and into the login screen with neither keyboard nor trackpad input. The only way to do anything further is to force shutdown of the system by pressing and holding the power button.
  • The keyboard is sometimes present at boot, and sometimes isn’t. You can verify this by hitting the Caps Lock key and seeing if its corresponding light lights up or not while you are at the white boot-up screen with the gray Apple logo.
  • Plugging in an external keyboard and mouse works, thereby eliminating the possibility that software is at fault.
  • While OS X is running, the keyboard and trackpad may become intermittently unresponsive.

The Problem

Prior to going the way of the unibody enclosure, the MacBook Pro sported a design largely carried over from the PowerBook G4. A design trait common to all such MacBook Pro models is that of the battery bay. In this design, the battery bay of the MacBook Pro is located beneath the trackpad, in roughly the middle of the wrist-rest area in front of its keyboard. MacBook Pro models that share this design are:

  • 15-inch Early 2006, Intel Core Duo (MA463LL/A, MA464LL/A, MA600LL, or MA601LL)
  • 17-inch Early 2006, Intel Core Duo (MA0922LL/A)
  • 15-inch Late 2006, Intel Core 2 Duo (MA609LL, or MA610LL)
  • 17-inch Late 2006, Intel Core 2 Duo (MA611LL/A)
  • 15-inch Mid 2007, Intel Core 2 Duo (MA895LL, MA896LL, MA895LL/A, or MA896LL/A)
  • 17-inch Mid 2007, Intel Core 2 Duo (MA897LL/A)
  • 15-inch Early 2008, Intel Core 2 Duo (MB133LL/A, or MB134LL/A)
  • 17-inch Early 2008, Intel Core 2 Duo (MB166LL/A)
Removing the battery

Remove the battery and you will see the partially exposed circuitry of the trackpad. Notably, you will see a orange ribbon cable that ends in two connections to the trackpad.


Take a closer look at this ribbon cable and you will see that it does not lie completely flat against the floor of the battery bay.


I have my MacBook Pro in a sling bag whenever I’m on the move, placed in such a way that the battery side of the notebook is always against my hip. I suspect that the jostling of the MacBook Pro, specifically its battery, against my body over time has weakened the connection of the ribbon cable to the trackpad.

Replicating the Problem

If your MacBook Pro is exhibiting the symptoms I’ve described above, here’s how to replicate the problem.

Before you proceed, install HardwareGrowler. HardwareGrowler is a subset of Growl that notifies you whenever hardware is disconnected and connected from your Mac. This is extremely useful, as it lets you see, in real time, the keyboard and trackpad disconnect and connect while you troubleshoot.

Once you have HardwareGrowler installed, perform the following steps:

  1. Your MacBook Pro should be running. If the keyboard and trackpad are still dead, use an external keyboard and mouse to login. Once you’re in OS X, unplug the external keyboard and mouse.
  2. Make sure your MacBook Pro is plugged into AC power.
  3. Flip your MacBook Pro over and remove its battery.
  4. Then arrange your MacBook Pro so that its screen is flat on a surface and its lower assembly is vertical, 90 degrees to the surface.
  5. Arrange yourself so that you can see both the battery bay and the screen of your MacBook Pro.
  6. With one finger, press the ribbon cable in the spot just before where it bulges. You may need a couple of tries before you find the exact spot.
  7. If you’re pressing the right spot, you should see two HardwareGrowler notifications appear on-screen. The first notification will say ‘USB Disconnection: Apple Internal Keyboard/Trackpad,’ while the second will say ‘USB Connection: Apple Internal Keyboard/Trackpad’.
  8. Remove your finger from the ribbon cable. At this point, the keyboard and trackpad may or not remain working.


If this troubleshooting procedure yields the results in Steps #7 and #8, congratulations — you can now be certain that it is a hardware problem, that you are not going insane, and that you have a high-tech problem to which there is, fortunately, a low-tech solution.

The Solution

If the warranty on your MacBook Pro is no longer valid, like mine, don’t worry. Simply take a small piece of paper, such as a Post-It, and fold it in half. Stick it over the spot on the ribbon cable. Then reinstall the removable battery. The battery should exert enough pressure on the piece of paper to keep the ribbon cable working.

If your MacBook Pro is still under warranty, take it to an Apple (s aapl) service center. While Apple has not officially acknowledged that this is a widespread problem, it’s afflicted the machines of many owners, so surely it’s not unknown to them. Demonstrate the steps described above to whomever is helping you as letting him or her see the problem as it happens eliminates the guesswork and may help expedite the time needed for repairs.

The long-term solution is, of course, to have the ribbon cable replaced, because the last thing you want is to have the keyboard and trackpad fail on you when you need to use your MacBook Pro most. In the meantime, you have a temporary fix should you need one.

1 I wish to credit Steve Eugene of Dallas for discovering the cause of the problem as detailed in his post on Apple’s discussion forum.

89 Responses to “The Curious Case of the Missing MacBook Pro Keyboard and Trackpad”

  1. Manolis

    I have the same problem…

    I’ ve tried fixing the problem with a small piece of carton, but it doesnt permanently solve it. Pressure on the top case or the trackpad can also trigger the disconnect.

    The official Apple service provider here in Greece (it took them a loooot of time to understand the cause of the problem) told me an upper-case replacement would solve it, costing me 240EUR in total.

    But this whole thing frustrates me… It makes no sense paying 2000EUR for a laptop, and expecting this kind of problems…. Plus I cannot afford a repair at the moment, being a student. But my MBP is my main tool at the university, and bought something expensive to avoid problems such as these… An external keyboard+mouse can do the trick at home, but the purpose of the laptop is to be mobile…

    Anyway… I was wondering if some heat-resistant silicon placed on the ribbon would do the trick. I guess it will prevent it from moving at all…

  2. Craig Burton

    Hi Clayton,

    Thank you for this post! After at least 5 years of solid performance with a Titanium G4, I was massively disappointed with a refurbished MBP with what appears to be this very problem.

    I will try this repair the next time it occurs.


  3. Caroline M

    Hi there… I have had a similar problem… but it is a bit different. The clicker on my trackpad is what hasn’t been working. Even when I’m not touching it it acts as if it is either being held down or clicked repeatedly. I can’t do anything when this happens. With the suggestion of a ribbon cable problem I took out my battery and checked it out and fussing with it seemed to help a little, but only for a few minutes and if I’m ever in a place where I can’t plug in my computer I’m dead meat because then I won’t be able to take my battery out. If anyone has had this problem and was able to get it fixed please let me know, both if it’s a simple solution or if it cost you money. I figure it will probably be more expensive to get a new ribbon cable than to buy an external mouse, but it would be so much more convenient to have my computer working without an extra device. Thanks…

    • William D

      Hello, I have recently begun having a MacBook Pro trackpad problem that sounds similar to your post of July 25, 2009. Trackpad acts like I am holding down the clicker even though I’m not. Did you find a solution? Thanks.

  4. Jason Harmon

    Hey man, thanks so much for this post. My logic board went bad a couple weeks ago… actually it was the nvidia issue that caused a lot of the santa rosa machines’ displays to die. Had to send it off… should have been a free fix but it cost $300… not too bad. Anyway a week after the new board from apple… key board / track pad die too. A sticky note fixed the problem. And for anyone who doesn’t want to … or just can’t install hardware growler, just press on that spot on the ribbon and press caps lock a few times while doing so. You’ll see the light come on and off as you touch the sensor.

    Anyway, thanks a million.

  5. Had the same problem and just fixed it using the instructions above. I didn’t see this in any of the comments, but it might also help to disconnect the ribbon and reinsert it more firmly. This might give longer-lasting results. It’s really easy; you just have to take off the translucent cover, flip a latch, and push the ribbon. You can find the instructions here:

    I actually spilled a bit of coffee on my keyboard last week so I thought that’s why my keyboard wasn’t working. But the strange thing is that it was working after the spill, then it stopped all of a sudden a couple days ago. So I couldn’t have short-circuited the keyboard. After opening up my computer, turns out the keyboard is actually pretty resilient. The buttons are embedded in rubber and there are plastic covers that attempt to minimize liquid or dust leakage to the main board. That won’t save you from a large spill, but in my case, my computer survived.

  6. I’ve had the keyboard/trackpad failure problem off and on since a few months after I purchased my MBP back in May of ’08. I’ve had it to the Apple store several times since it started, only to be turned away each time since I was unable to reproduce the problem. I’ve tried the cable pressing approach, but that doesn’t seem to bring it back or cause it to error out. It’s been frustrating few days trying to figure out if it’s hardware or software causing the problem, and I’m thoroughly disappointed with the customer service I’ve received at the Genius Bar.

    The only actual way of fixing the hardware problems on these older MBP is to replace them with the new unibody model MBPs, assuming they don’t have a similar problem lurking inside their hermetically sealed shells.

    I’d be happy to know if anyone has been experiencing this problem from the software side rather than the hardware side, and what software has been causing it. I’ll be a bit mystified if it’s software as I don’t have anything out of the ordinary starting up on my system.

  7. i thought that MAC is flawless ,why we don’t hear Mac fan boy say about it ,we All agree Windows is crappy and we have the courage to say that ,yet i see Mac is crappier ,they don’t admit it ever

  8. Same problem, same model, bought around the same time…
    Apple “genius” claimed water damage and wants to charge me 450$ to replace the keyboard and lower case. Post-it is working for now.

  9. Rishi Sanyal

    Although I said earlier that this fixed the problem, now that it’s been a while, I have to retract my statement.

    It HELPS the problem, but doesn’t FIX it. That is, my drop-outs are much less frequent, but they still DO OCCUR, unfortunately.

    I went to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, and they said the only fix was to replace the entire lower case. I said ‘but it just seems that it’s the ribbons that need to be replaced’. The rep told me ‘we don’t do that, we can only replace the entire lower case, which costs $233, since you’re out of warranty’.

    This is ludicrous! Pay $233 for a temporary fix that will surely go wrong again because this is a DESIGN PROBLEM?

    There must be some better solution, no?

    Class action suit, anyone?

  10. I have the same issue. I called Apple and the only suggestion that they could give me was to do an archive and install. Which did not work because the issue happened again during the archive and install itself. I am waiting to hear what they have to say. My MBP is 11 months old, has been through 3 major repairs, and 2 minors one. I had the audio board replaced, two displays replaced, the power adapter replaced, and the case had to be repaired because the apple technicians did not reassemble correctly after the audio board repair.

  11. For all of you who are facing this problem, I really strongly advise you to get it fixed. The keyboard and trackpad on my MacBook Pro finally gave up the ghost. No amount of massaging the flex cable will resuscitate them.

    I’d post back if the Apple technicians have anything to say regarding this when I send my MBP in for repair.

  12. Had multiple lockups today, I scheduled a time with the local Apple store (1-1/2) hours away. I “massaged” the cable to make sure it was fully connected, and after that I have not had a problem. So I cancelled my appointment. I have had this problem for a while and the only help from Apple phone support was to archive and reinstall. That did nothing, I hope this works if it acts up again I will install the paper shim.
    I am a little disappointed, my last ibook lasted 8 years without a problem, this one is only 14 months old.

  13. I am having this same problem, but for some reason, am unable to use this fix to get around it. I would be curious to hear if others are having the same issue and not finding this fix to be adequate. If so – any more thoughts!?!

  14. nealos

    Same Pro from the same date, with the same issues starting to happen around the same time. hmmm. Thanks for the info; after digging through countless threads and posts, yours is BY FAR the most logical and helpful. Thanks for doing what Apple couldn’t do by acknowledging this problem and providing a fix for it (though be it temporary). …I almost bought a new battery because ‘sometimes’ it was cured when I took the battery out and put it back in again; phew! YOU DA MAN!

  15. Rishi Sanyal

    I just wanted to add a confirmation that this fix works on my Macbook Pro also, and a ‘thank you’ for reposting this fix.

    It’s additionally evident that this is a hardware problem since it also occurs when I boot, via BootCamp, into Windows Vista.

  16. Changing the top case or the keyboard won’t solve the problem except that it will change the ribbon cable at the same time. Sometimes they change one or the other and so don’t change the cable… Sadly the technicians are generally unaware of this problem and so don’t really know how to fix it. I wouldn’t stay with the PostIt note for too long – If your machine is under warranty then get it fixed but if not, you need to give precise instructions and they will (should?) be able fix it for a lot less.

  17. Thank you! A folded PostIt solved my problem as well.

    I was in the shop asking about a quote to get it fixed and they said that they probably needed to change the entire top and would cost about 4 000 swedish crowns (about $500).

    I think that Apple really needs to fix this for free or replace all units with the same issue.

  18. great article!! this has happened with two consecutive macbook pros (both of the same/last generation). apple store operatives replaced numerous keyboards, and eventually replaced the machine. now, a year later, this machine is doing it as well. it does seem to have something to do with the battery and the keyboard cable, as well as the battery-on-the-hip sling thing. taking out the battery and (and i kid you not) massaging the cable (or gently pressing down along the length of the ribbon to make sure the ends are attached) seems to do the trick in an emergency. my usb mouse and keyboard alleviate the problem most of the time. i’ll try the post it trick, and take it back to have the keyboard replaced.

    thanx again. now i’m off to deal with that loud rattling fan in the upper left of the keyboard.

  19. Thanks for the post! Those jerks tried to tell me it was “water damage” but I knew there was something else going on. I’ve never even had my computer near water.

  20. Mark Dillan

    Thanks for the tip, will try it the next time I’m on the road. It’s really been getting on my nerves for a week or two now, and I would be far more than happy if your fix works. Thanks in advance!

  21. Clayton Lai

    Yes, Jared, please do post back if Apple insists on charging you. I’m interested to how just how much it’d cost to get this problem fixed, because, the keyboard and trackpad on my MBP have been flickering on and off recently.

  22. Thanks for this article…I’ve been having this problem just in the last couple weeks, and I thought it was software related (I’ve been testing a lot of alpha stuff lately). But after going through the step-by-step to trigger the problem, it was (unfortunately) spot on. I’m out of warranty, but I may go to the Apple store this weekend, I’ll post again to see how much (or if) they charge me for it. For now I’m rockin’ the post-it note!

  23. This happened to me as well. I finally located the buried thread about it on the Apple forum and fixed the problem instantly.
    I love my MBP, but that’s a lot of money to pay for something that needs to be held together with a bit of tape and cardboard. Should be fixed for free by Apple on all units regardless of warranty, IMHO. They wouldn’t have to replace the whole assembly, just do an approved mod on the cable like everyone else is doing.

  24. Roland

    I have had this problem twice. Apple fixed it twice. Now I always carry a USB mini mouse. If you press between the trackpad and the keyboard, about 25% of the way from left to right you can get the keyboard back to life (sometimes) enough to authenticate. I’ve temporarily fixed the issue with a folded sticky bit off a post-it note but it won’t last long! Now if only there was a fix for the flickering keyboard back-light problem I’m now beset with.

  25. Oddly enough, I have had this exact same problem on the same model of Macbook Pro for the past couple of weeks.

    When opening the lid to come out of suspend, the keyboard and trackpad are dead. The first time I had this issue, reboots didnt fix anything.

    Initially I put it down to my own fault. About 4 weeks ago I installed a new HDD inside my Macbook Pro so I assumed that the connector from the Lid (keyboard/trackpad/speakers/lights etc) had come loose.

    So I took the lid off and reseated the cable. It took a couple of attempts at this before I got the internal KB/trackpad back. But it came back and worked for a bit.

    However, this has happened a couple of times again since. On recent occasions things started working again when I rebooted with an external mouse. I also found that the apple USB keyboard and trackpad were still visible as USB devices in system profiler even though they were not responding. This last point made me wonder if it was my cable replugging that was teh issue or if there is a software/firmware issue that I have recently introduced.

    Thanks for your article, will check the connection where you suggest the problem lies. However I am still suspicious that the problem is not hardware related. Please keep us updated if you have further problems!

  26. Had this happen as well Fortunately I had purchased apple care and they replaced the whole keyboard/trackpad module and all affected. Took it to the Mac Store on Saturday and had it back on Monday. Love the tech support and care!

  27. A similar flaw exists in the PowerBook G4, but in a different (or additional) location. The presence of a second (upper) DRAM DIMM can put downward pressure on the ribbon cable near where it actually connects to the logic board. The effect is that the ribbon cable is pressed down where it should be allowed to flex. Stress is transferred to the far side of the cable’s connection to the logic board, causing it to break up and away from the board. That is, increased pressure on the front of the connection causes the back of the connection to “lever” up and away from the board.

    I fixed this in my own PB G4 17″ as follows:

    1. Remove both DRAM DIMMs
    2. Pressing the connector down evenly, (carefully) apply light, brief pressure to the connection’s contact points with a fine-tip soldering iron to restore the solder points.
    3. Allow to cool.
    4. Place a small piece of rubber beneath the curve of the cable to counter the downward pressure on the cable when the DRAM DIMMs are reinstalled. (I used the edge of a thin, non-skid rubber pad, cut down to size with an X-acto knife.

    A bit delicate, but not difficult. My PB has worked fine for another year and a half since.

    • It’s pretty obvious it’s a design flaw. What really sucks is my macbook pro is 3 years old and still runs great excvept for this flaw. But it’s a big flaw and is really really annoying. I paid $2000 for this laptop and 3 years is ridiculous. I actually had my isight cable go as well but was able to pick one up on ebay and install it myself.
      If you buy a keyboard cable on ebay the same problem will happen because the cable is flawed.
      It’s too bad that someone couldn’t come out with a 3rd party cable. I’ll bet they could sell quite a few.
      I was thinking of trying to cut the cable and solder extensions to the contacts, but I’m not sure if thats even possible, it’s a very thin cable.
      Pretty sure Apple would rather you buy a new macbook than fix your old one but until this problem gets fixed I’m never buying another Apple product.