Apple has made some popular and iconic mechanical keyboards in the past. But, since the early 2000s, they’ve exclusively produced the sleeker butterfly-style membrane keyboards they’re now famous for. So, does this mean that mechanical ones won’t work with your Mac?
Mechanical keyboards still work on Macs. However, not all of them may be compatible with Apple computers. Moreover, even Mac-compatible products may not have standard Apple keyboard layouts and legends, making it harder for Mac users to adjust to using them.
- Do Mechanical Keyboards Work on Mac?
- The Advantages of Using a Mechanical Keyboard With a Mac
- The Drawbacks of Using a Mechanical Keyboard Compatible With Mac
- Should You Use a Mechanical Keyboard With Your Mac?
- Why Did Apple Stop Making Mechanical Keyboards?
- Final Thoughts
Learn more about the compatibility issues between mechanical keyboards and Apple computers. In this article, I’ll explain the pros and cons of pairing and share my recommendation on whether you should use a mechanical keyboard with your Mac.
Do Mechanical Keyboards Work on Mac?
I’ve already explained that you can use mechanical keyboards with Macs. But just because you can use a mechanical keyboard with your Apple computer doesn’t automatically mean you should.
Mechanical keyboards are good for Macs and offer several advantages and disadvantages. With the odd exception, most of these features are platform agnostic. The benefits and drawbacks of using a mechanical keyboard with Macs are the same as pairing them with any other computer.
Still, you’ll want to consider these factors closely before using a mechanical keyboard. So, let’s discuss them in more detail in the next section.
The Advantages of Using a Mechanical Keyboard With a Mac
Mechanical keyboards are robust products that are fun to use, which is a large part of their appeal.
They’re easier to clean, repair, and customize, and many people also find they’re faster to work with and look cooler.
Of course, as with beauty, many of these virtues lie in the eye of the beholder. Below are the main advantages of using mechanical keyboards with Macs:
Mechanical Ones Are More Responsive And Are Better For Work
Membrane keyboards – such as the Magic Keyboards sold along with iMacs and Mac Pros – have slim keycaps that aren’t mounted on switches. To register keystrokes on such devices, users must push keys all the way down until they’re fully engaged.
Some people like this arrangement, but most users find the keys on membrane keyboards less responsive and more strenuous than those on mechanical ones. For the same reasons, typing on membrane keyboards is less enjoyable, more tiring, and slower going.
On the other hand, mechanical keyboards usually have switch-mounted keycaps that activate as they are engaged. This improved “tactility” makes them much more responsive than membrane keyboards and, therefore, more enjoyable to use, less tiring, and faster to work with.
Moreover, the switches on a mechanical keyboard are spring-mounted and come in different styles, allowing users to pick switches depending on the type of tactile response they prefer. This can create a more ergonomic experience.
Different styles of switches available for mechanical keyboards include:
- Linear switches: These offer smooth resistance when they are pressed and do not click.
- Tactile switches: These switches provide some resistance partway through a keystroke but do not click to register a keystroke.
- Clicky switches: They provide both tactile resistance and auditory feedback when a keystroke has registered.
Users can also implement different styles of switches on the same keyboard.
The customizability of switches on a mechanical keyboard makes them much more pleasurable to the touch and fun to use.
Over long hours of use, the reduced strain from operating a mechanical keyboard can also lead to noticeably lower muscular fatigue.
They Are More Accurate And Provide a Great Gaming Keyboard Experience
The excellent responsiveness of mechanical keyboards also translates to greater accuracy.
Superior tactile response means typists can more accurately register when keys have registered, even without visual confirmation. While this might not seem like a big deal, working fast can lead to significantly fewer errors.
Additionally, when multiple keys are engaged in quick succession, a mechanical keyboard is more likely to accurately register each key in the order it was engaged than a membrane keyboard. This means you can quickly engage keys on a mechanical keyboard.
The excellent accuracy of mechanical keyboards means that you will consistently be able to operate at the fastest speeds when using them. Whether you’re typing out manuscripts, coding, or gaming, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate their speed advantage.
They Are Built Better (Mechanical Switches Are Superior)
The keys on a mechanical keyboard are usually made of high-quality plastics, such as polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). They also tend to be larger and bulkier on average. They’re usually, therefore, sturdier than membrane keyboards.
In addition, as has been mentioned earlier, physical switches on mechanical keyboards are spring-mounted, allowing them to withstand more wear and tear. This means the keys on a mechanical keyboard are usually more durable than those on a membrane keyboard. Many are rated to last millions of keystrokes.
Thus, investing in an excellent mechanical keyboard makes sense for power users who use keyboards for hours on end. A better-built keyboard will likely last them many more years than a sleeker but less robust product.
They Are Easier To Repair, Clean, and Customize Than a Mac Keyboard
Because mechanical keyboards are easier to take apart and put back together, even those with very little experience find them easy to repair and clean.
Moreover, mechanical keyboards are modular.
Damaged keys, springs, stabilizers, and other parts can all be individually removed and replaced when they get damaged. Thus, it is possible to replace single keys and switches without having to replace all of them at once.
In addition, shopping for spares is easy. Most parts are available in various designs and appearances, making it easier than ever to repair mechanical keyboards and improve them through customization.
You can choose keys and switches to suit your preference for tactile response or based on how they sound. You can also choose from different colored keys to help visually distinguish the sections of your keyboard and better express your personality.
Mac Compatible Mechanical Keyboards Look Sleeker
Many users prefer the retro aesthetic of mechanical keyboards, comparing it favorably to working on a typewriter.
As that analogy makes clear, mechanical keyboards recall an era when the functions of engineered goods were more transparent in their design, and tools were built to last.
Of course, this is a more subjective criterion, and many users may prefer the sleeker, more compact design of more modern keyboard styles.
However, a clear advantage mechanical keyboards have over membrane varieties in terms of appearance is greater customizability. Their customizability makes it easier for individual users to tailor mechanical keyboards to their tastes.
Most membrane keyboards come as they are; users can do very little to modify them once purchased.
The Drawbacks of Using a Mechanical Keyboard Compatible With Mac
So, you’re wondering, why doesn’t Apple sell their computers with mechanical keyboards, then? Well, as I’ve mentioned earlier, they have drawbacks.
Mechanical keyboards are noisier and bulkier than membrane ones. However, their chief disadvantage is that they’re more expensive to produce and cost more.
Finally, because Apple no longer produces mechanical keyboards, fewer Mac-compatible ones are around today.
They Are More Expensive
Mechanical keyboards were once the norm. One of the main reasons they got replaced by membrane ones is that the latter is cheaper to produce. Thus, manufacturers can sell membrane keyboards at much lower prices than they need to charge for mechanical types.
In a world of price-conscious consumers and numerous manufacturers, membrane keyboards have won the mass market based on affordability.
However, remember that mechanical keyboards are much more durable than membrane ones. So, although a mechanical keyboard will cost you more, it will likely last much longer than a membrane keyboard.
When the affordability of a membrane keyboard is adjusted against its longevity, it may not offer much cost advantage after all.
They Are Noisier
Springs, switches, and tactile keys mean that mechanical keyboards tend to make more noise when they are being used.
Membrane keyboards have a lower profile, no springs, and aren’t as tactile. Thus, they are usually quieter than mechanical ones.
They Are Bulkier
The greater bulk of mechanical keyboards offers benefits and drawbacks. The same features that make them more robust in construction make them bigger and heavier.
As a result, they are less compact and sleek in appearance, less portable, and take up more room in a desk or travel bag.
macOS Compatibility With Mechanical Keyboards Is Rare
Because Apple no longer makes mechanical keyboards, most available today are made by third-party manufacturers.
Over the years, manufacturers have prioritized making keyboards for Windows. So, even though they may be technically Mac-compatible, many don’t follow the keyboard layouts that Mac users may be familiar with.
Similarly, many mechanical keyboards made by third-party manufacturers do not come with legends Mac users are familiar with.
For all these reasons, Mac users may find it harder to use most mechanical keyboards on the market today.
However, many manufacturers now make mechanical keyboards compatible with Macs, and boards with Mac layouts are becoming increasingly common.
They Take A Bit Of Getting Used To
Of course, besides compatibility and layout issues, Mac users used to working on membrane keys may also find it harder to use mechanical keyboards because of their significantly different tactile response compared to membrane ones.
However, this is usually a matter of bumbling through an adjustment period. Very soon, most users can get used to working on a mechanical keyboard. Most likely, they will not want to turn back.
Should You Use a Mechanical Keyboard With Your Mac?
As we’ve seen above, there are many advantages to working with a mechanical keyboard on a Mac. The drawbacks seem relatively insignificant by contrast.
You should use a mechanical keyboard with a Mac unless any of the following are true for you:
- You’re on a tight budget.
- Portability is a high priority.
- You prefer the compact, sleek aesthetic of membrane keyboards.
- You have no interest in doing any maintenance or customization tasks.
- You hate changes to your working environment.
Many users will fall under one of these brackets. If you don’t, give mechanical keyboards a go. You’ll find plenty of others passionate about these humble devices.
Why Did Apple Stop Making Mechanical Keyboards?
Inheriting their design from typewriters, computer keyboards started their lives as mechanical models. Apple is no exception. They’ve made some iconic and popular mechanical keyboards in the past.
The Apple Standard Keyboard and the Apple Extended Keyboard, released alongside the Macintosh II and Macintosh SE, were both mechanical. However, Apple stopped making mechanical keyboards after the Apple Extended Keyboard II, which was released later in the 1990s.
The lower costs of the membrane keyboards made Apple prioritize them over mechanical ones. The newer keyboard technology also better fits Apple’s ever-slicker design philosophy.
Since the 2000s, Apple has exclusively made membrane keyboards. Over time, they have gotten thinner and more minimal. The thinking behind this is that thinner ones require less exertion of the wrists.
However, many users argue that the better tactility of mechanical keyboards makes up for their raised profiles. Fans of them say that they are, in fact, less strenuous to use than membrane keyboards and not the other way around.
Most Apple keyboards now come in monolithic aluminum enclosures and have chiclet-style keys. The Magic Keyboards sold with iMacs, Mac Pros, and individual products are the most ubiquitous representative of this type of keyboard.
Apple’s Magic Keyboards are extremely popular, sleek, light, and compact. However, many users are now considering the advantages of mechanical types. Are you one of them?
Although Apple no longer makes mechanical keyboards for their computers, several other third-party manufacturers do.
Whether you want a full-sized board or a compact one, a wired keyboard or a wireless one, you can find a Mac-compatible mechanical keyboard that satisfies your requirements.
But just because you can use a mechanical keyboard with your Mac doesn’t mean you should.
I’d recommend those who prioritize performance and like the retro aesthetic switch to a mechanical keyboard. Those who prefer compact devices, are highly cost-conscious, and don’t like tinkering may want to stick with their default tools.