Sudden & partial keyboard backlight failure on MB Pro 2016. Any experiences?

Hi everyone,

I was wondering why my keyboard looked kind of strange, this morning. Then I noticed that the keyboard lighting was turned on (strangely enough in a bright room) and that only a few keys were backlit — not all of them.

Since I had my keyboard already replaced twice (I suppose I now have the 2018 keyboard in my 2016 MB Pro) I did some research beforehand and hoped that it was some software related issue (BTT or Karabiner Elements): disabling them didn’t have any effect, though.

Then I noticed that those keys that actually were backlit had 100% brightness — I tried to reduce the brightness but no change of backlighting is noticeable, except when I go all the way to 0% to turn it off (at least that works, because the irregular lighting pattern is driving me nuts).

If all that wasn’t strange enough I noticed something else during trouble shooting: After a SMC reset, followed by a NVRAM/PRAM reset the problem persists in a weird way: now keys that lit up are dark, and some that where dark before shine bright… I did the reset dance twice and the light & dark pattern changed twice. This leads me to believe that the actual background light is not the problem (since they do light up in different combinations) — and since all keys are working quite nicely (knock on wood) I am afraid that the keyboard is also not the problem.

Now my mind runs in circles and aks: but what could it be — and how expensive will it get? Has anyone experienced this issue and knows what to do?

Any ideas for further troubleshooting are really appreciated.
Thanks in advance!

You still have a 2016 keyboard installed. When Apple replaces the the keyboard (entire top case actually), it does not upgrade you to a newer version. Based on your description of how the keyboard backlight is behaving… I’m leaning towards the top case having a short in it, But since you reset the SMC and NVRAM/PRAM already and now have new syptoms, the logic board could be the issue. Can you visit your local Apple Store for Diagnostic testing to confirm this?

Thanks for your post @MacGuyMI — actually the info with the keyboard came directly from the guy at the genius bar (2nd replacement in 2018). I just believed him after asking twice. I tried to find indicators that verify that claim but could not find anything. I did have the impression of a better keyboard overall. Maybe that’s why my belief got manifest. You probably are right, though. Do you know if there is any way to verify the actual date of the keyboard without disassembling it?

In the meantime I scheduled an appointment for Thursday at my local apple store — I’m hoping for the best. But just to be prepared for the worst: do you know how much a logic board would cost? Is it even worth it…?

Side note: I had the Macbook run the diagnostics on boot via “D” and this at least did not report any issues — I imagine though that the diagnostics in store are way more thorough.

Since my initial posting I had the Macbook shutdown for a few hours. As I opened it to reply I noticed that the dark/bright key ratio changed again. Don’t know if this is another indicator for or against something. Just wanted to mention it.

I’ll report back as soon as I know more.

So, as it turns out the guy at the genius bar was quite nice. He basically did the same tests I ran as described above and then booted via external system to see if that changed anything. Did the above resets twice more, which just resulted in the same randomised key lighting pattern.

Unfortunately that was it. He stated he’d never seen anything like this before and researched if it was warranted by the special keyboard warranty program Apple has — which it is not. So, they would replace the whole top case once more, if I want to and am willing to cover for the costs of around 500$. Apart from that the only thing that could rescue me is if any of the keyboard keys would start acting out again (such as hanging, delay, or double triggering), because then it would be covered by the special repair program, which would result in a free top case exchange and most likely also resolve the backlight issues (hopefully).

I don’t really need the backlit keys but of course it drives me nuts to know there is some kind of hardware defect. So in the end I will either give it to my girlfriend when I upgrade or have to sell it cheaper, or put in the 500$ before selling. To be honest though, I wouldn’t buy a device with such an unknown hardware issue because I would ponder everyday if it might break any moment.
Therefore I’m reluctant to even sell such a device, even if the defect is disclosed. I’ll probably use it until it dies and upgrade 2024/25.

For now I’ll let it rest but hope the keyboard does me the favour of acting out again. I guess I will have to type even more and figure out some additional keyboard shortcuts… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

FWIW when my 2016 MBPro’s keyboard went wonky, it was part of the battery swelling. When I looked closer I could see the case starting to buldge.

I had Applecare on that Mac; but Apple Store guy whom I handed the machine for repair said that they would have repaired it even out of warranty.

Any chance the battery is wonky? Or would the Genius Bar guy have had a test for that?

Weird. Have you had the flexgate issue fixed? My 2016 MBP had it about a month ago, weeks before my applecare ran out. Not the same symptoms but it began with strange lighting effects before the screen died.

I’m afraid not. I can’t say if the guy ran a test especially for the battery but from working with it I would say it’s fine: no noticeable drain, no bulge.

Nope, haven’t had flexgate in any way. I did have to replace the display at my own cost last year because after updating I suddenly had a cyan line running through the left side of my display which got worse by the minute and finally resulted in the display going completely down. This is still a mystery to me: before the update the display was fine — I set the Macbook aside, went into the kitchen to make a tea and when I came back the line was present. The only thing I can imagine is that one of our cats actually tried to bite the display. Then again there was no sign of scratch or teeth.

The guy yesterday asked me three times if there may be any fluid issues I would have forgotten about… After smiling and denying a third time I finally added: look, the Macbook is from 2016 — now we have 2019 and it still looks like new. I am pretty anal about the condition of my devices. My girlfriend even makes jokes about it (so I always clean hers, too).