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How to fix Mac Bluetooth issues

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Many users have reported Mac Bluetooth issues that cause connected devices to behave erratically. These problems resulted in my Wireless Keyboard, Magic Trackpad and Mouse not working correct fly (i.e., erratic cursor movement) and disconnecting frequently. 

In this post, I describe the steps I took to troubleshoot the Bluetooth issues I have had on my Retina 5K iMac running macOS.

PS: I just purchased a new iMac Pro, running the latest version of macOS, and I have had several disconnects so far. As a result, it looks like as if even Apple’s latest Pro model is not immune from the issues I describe below.

Keyboard and trackpad

The connectivity issues started a few years ago with my Bluetooth accessories becoming intermittently unresponsive, resulting in erratic cursor movements and clicks that I didn’t cause.

After some initial troubleshooting, I disconnected the Trackpad and paired my old Magic Mouse. After a few days without issues, the Magic Mouse started acting up as well, followed by my Wireless Keyboard sometimes not registering keystrokes.

After every “reconnect” or a reboot, the devices would work for a while. However, after a few days, the connectivity issues would resurface.

Magic Trackpad
Magic Trackpad

Potential Causes

I had OS X 10.11 Public Beta installed and figured the problem was either caused by a corrupt OS X installation or interference. I also learned that the OS X kernel could only handle a limited number of concurrently connected Bluetooth devices without running into congestion and interference issues.

That magic number appears to be 5 or 6; some even say it is as low as 4. But I only had three devices connected at the same time. Because it was unlikely that all three devices had defects, the cause had to be the iMac’s hard- or software.

Wireless Keyboard
Wireless Keyboard

Unsuccessful troubleshooting steps

I did some research and found dozens of potential causes and fixes for Bluetooth issues on OS X. Not knowing the exact cause I tried most of them without success.

Ultimately I ended up having the antennas and AirPort card of the iMac replaced. Since hardware issues are not very common, I ran through the following steps first, before taking my iMac to the Apple Store:

Shutdown iMac

I powered down the iMac and before booting it up into Safe Mode, I replaced the batteries of all three affected devices.

Re-seat batteries

In addition to using fresh batteries, I took a piece of aluminum foil, rolled it into a tiny ball and put it into the battery compartment before inserting the batteries. Some users reported their issues were caused by batteries not having proper contact on either side of the battery compartment.

Magic Mouse
Magic Mouse

PRAM and SMC reset

For resetting the iMac’s System Management Controller (SMC), I unplugged everything, waited 30 seconds and plugged the power cable back in.

Then I pressed the power button and booted the iMac up while holding the Command + Option + P + R keys. For more information on how to reset SMC and PRAM, you can check out my earlier post about Mac OS X First Aid.

Boot up in Safe Mode

After the PRAM reset, I power cycled again while holding down the Shift key. That boots the Mac into Safe Mode. Once I logged in, I power cycled the iMac again and booted up normally.

Un-pair devices via preference pane

Until yesterday, I didn’t have a wired keyboard and mouse, so disconnecting all wireless devices would prevent me from controlling the iMac. As a workaround, I enabled Screen Sharing via System Preferences —> Sharing on my iMac and then logged into it from my MacBook.

I deleted the Wireless Keyboard, Magic Trackpad, Magic Mouse, entered pairing mode and reconnected all three devices.

Mac Bluetooth issues affect keyboard and trackpad

Delete Bluetooth preferences (plist file)

Next, I deleted the preferences files associated with Bluetooth and specifically my Bluetooth-enabled devices. I used Finder to navigate to ~/Library/Preferences (you can use the Command+Shift+G keyboard shortcut in Finder), and I moved the following files to the trash.

Mac Bluetooth issues affect keyboard and trackpad
Go to the hidden folder ~/Library/Preferences
Preferences in Finder
Find the related “plist” files
  • com.apple.driver.AppleBluetoothMultitouch.trackpad.plist – Magic Trackpad
  • com.apple.driver.AppleBluetoothMultitouch.mouse.plist – Magic Mouse
  • com.apple.driver.AppleHIDMouse.plist – wired USB mouse
  • com.apple.AppleMultitouchTrackpad.plist
  • com.apple.preference.trackpad.plist

Update to latest Public Beta

I would have done that even without having Bluetooth issues, but I updated OS X to the latest 10.11.1 Public Beta.

Remove anything that could cause interference

Nothing in my immediate environment had changed since I started having issues, but I decided to remove any device that could cause interference from my desk and the immediate surrounding.

Reinstall a fresh copy of OS X

Reinstalling OS X was my last hope and one I tried to avoid for as long as I could. I knew that reinstalling would require my iCloud Photo Library to re-synchronize and that’s one thing I wanted to avoid. But since nothing else seems to solve my Bluetooth issues, I had no other choice.

To make sure all Public Beta residue was gone, I re-installed OS X using Internet Recovery (hold Command + Option + R while booting up). That allowed me to wipe my hard drive completely, including the recovery partition.

Bring iMac to Apple Store

At the Apple Store Hunter, my favorite Genius ran a system diagnostics, but it didn’t show any issues. So we re-imaged my hard drive with a developer copy of OS X that is based on 10.11 GM.

A quick test using their Magic Mouse seemed promising, but shortly after I returned home with the iMac, the issue reappeared. Fortunately, Hunter was thinking ahead and already ordered replacement parts, including:

AirPort card
AirPort card
  • 3 Antenna assembly
  • The AirPort/Bluetooth card, identified by its model number BCM94360CD, consisting of:
    • Broadcom BCM4360KML1G 5G WiFi 3-Stream 802.11ac Gigabit Transceiver
    • Skyworks SE5516 Dual-Band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WLAN Front-End Module
    • Broadcom BCM20702 Single-Chip Bluetooth 4.0 HCI Solution with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Support

For more information on those parts, check out iFixit’s teardown of the 27” Retina 5K iMac.

I will get those parts replaced in the next few days and hope this fixes the problem. I don’t know what else it could be. Meanwhile, I bought a wired keyboard and mouse and can’t say I love those cables on my otherwise neatly kept desk.

Temporary setup with wired keyboard and mouse
Temporary setup with wired keyboard and mouse

As soon as I get my iMac back from the Apple Store (3-5 days turn-around time), I’ll update this post and let you know, if replacing the mentioned parts fixed the issues I was having. If you have had Bluetooth issues with OS X as well and knew a fix, please leave a comment. If you haven’t found a fix, I’d also appreciate if you would let me know what steps you took that didn’t work.

Hardware repair attempt #1

I got my iMac back from the Apple Store today. They replaced the AirPort module and three antennas and surprisingly also the full display. I immediately updated the iMac to the very latest 10.11.1 Public Beta (Build 15B30a) and so far, the issue hasn’t returned. I’ll keep you posted!

Hardware repair attempt #2

The antenna and AirPort module replacement did not fix the problem, and neither did OS X 10.11.1. So I took the iMac back to the Apple Store, and they’re currently replacing the AirPort module again – this time with one from a different manufacturer.

Swapping my Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad for the new Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad 2 didn’t make any difference either. I’m guessing we’re dealing with a bug in El Capitan that’s related to the iMac’s hardware.

Software update

Issues have returned despite all the troubleshooting steps above. So I filed a bug report with the Apple development team. Then today, I saw the final OS X 10.11.2 update come in, and it lists BT issues in the release notes. Let’s see if this final build fixes the problem.

OS X El Capitan Release Notes

Updates and additional information

Apple Grand Central Dispatch (GCD)

Howard Oakley suspects that GCD is causing many of the issues in macOS, including the above Bluetooth problems. Check out his excellent article on the topic.

macOS 10.13 High Sierra

Unfortunately, I occasionally still experience Bluetooth issues with my keyboard and trackpad after having upgraded my Mac to macOS 10.13 High Sierra. It’s disappointing that Apple didn’t or couldn’t fix that annoying problem!

macOS 10.13.4 Beta

I have been running Beta versions of High Sierra since Apple made the first Public Beta available. The good news is, I barely experience any Bluetooth issues anymore. The bad news is, they still occur, as infrequently as they may.

Anytime it happens, my trackpad would disconnect for a second or two, before re-connecting. I haven’t done a complete re-install in a while, but I had one planned anyway, to jump off the Beta bandwagon.

How to solve the problem?

Since I published this article in 2015, many readers have chimed in and offered potential solutions. Here are the most promising ones, that have helped numerous readers resolve the issue:

Disable Handoff in Preferences Pane

Allow handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices - Mac Bluetooth issues
Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices

Several readers have suggested that the issue isn’t related to BT at all and I think they are on to something. Michael Perry discovered that the culprit might be Apple’s Handoff feature. If disabled, the problem appears to be going away for many. Here is how you do it:

  1. System Preference > General
  2. Uncheck “Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices.”
  3. Restart your Mac.

Reset Bluetooth module via Debug menu

Show Bluetooth in menu bar - Mac Bluetooth issues
Make sure “Show Bluetooth in menu bar” is checked

You can also try to reset the Bluetooth module on your Mac, and here is how to do it. Before you start, make sure the Bluetooth icon is visible in your Mac’s menu bar. If it is not, open System Preferences > Bluetooth and make sure you have checked “Show Bluetooth in menu bar” at the bottom of the dialog.

Reset the Bluetooth module - Mac Bluetooth issues
Reset the Bluetooth module
  1. Hold the Shift and Option key on your keyboard and click on the Bluetooth icon in your Mac’s drop-down menu bar
  2. Select Debug > Reset the Bluetooth module

Additionally, you can also try “Factory reset all connected Apple devices.” It helps if you have a wired keyboard a mouse handy while you perform those tasks.

Disable internal Bluetooth and use a USB Bluetooth adapter / dongle

Some readers have also suggested that switching from internal Bluetooth to an external (USB) Bluetooth dongle may help. I haven’t tried that, but it may be worth giving that a shot.

VMware Fusion: Disable Share Bluetooth Devices with Windows

If you are using VMware Fusion to run Windows applications on your Mac, you could also try disabling “share Bluetooth devices with Windows” as one reader has pointed out.

Final words – Apple needs to fix that!

If you have found this article searching for “Bluetooth not available on Mac,” “how to reset Bluetooth on Mac” or something similar, I hope some of the tips mentioned above could help to resolve your issue.

Unfortunately, those pesky Bluetooth issues on the Mac do not always seem to have a simple solution. I guess that is because the underlying problem is not well-understood either – at least not by the Mac user community.

Ultimately, Apple needs to fix those issues in its devices via hardware, firmware, or software updates. It can’t be that connectivity issues, like the ones mentioned above, stick around for multiple generations of devices and macOS releases.

If any of the solutions presented in this article have helped fix your Mac Bluetooth issues – and even if they haven’t – please let me know by leaving a comment below!

About the Author Michael Kummer

I was born and raised in Austria. I speak German, English, and Spanish. Since moving to the U.S., I have lived and worked in the greater Atlanta area. In my twenties, I was a professional 100m sprinter. These days I do mostly CrossFit. I'm a technologist and Apple fan. I love science and don't believe anything unless there is proof. I follow a Ketogenic Paleo diet and intermittently fast every day. I'm married and have two trilingual kids. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn so that you can spend time on something else. Check out my latest Diet, Fitness, and Technology articles.

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  • Joe says:

    I’ve had the same issue after updating my 2012 MacBook Air to El Capitan. The 10.11.2 update seems to have stopped the disconnects, but I still get intermittent erratic cursor movement from my magic trackpad and missing keyboard strokes from the wireless keyboard. You?

    Perhaps it’s a strategy to sell the new magic trackpad 2?

    • I use both the new Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad 2 and have issues – so I’m guessing Apple still hasn’t resolved the BT issue in 10.11.2. I have a ticket with Apple R&D pending – let’s see what they come back with.

      • Jim says:

        Same issues with 10.13.1. Thank you for your efforts and posts.

      • Laurie Carrigan says:

        The disable handoff and then shut down worked. All other tries failed. Thank you!!

        • Greg says:

          Disabling handoff worked also for me. Thanks – like you I was getting frustrated and had tried everything I could think of. Appreciate your careful documenting of fixes and ideas.

          • Mau says:

            Same here. Disabling handoff worked out all the bluetooth issues with my magic mouse/keyboard. Thanks!

    • Fred says:

      I thought the update to 10.13.4 fixed the BT problems but it did not. Apple has to address this issue and also the inability of Safari to run Netflix videos. Both are long standing problems, probably from recycling code from previous versions. Chrome browser plays those videos with no problems. Also, with Safari, I can only view the first five or six images of online galleries. Why? Who knows. iOS on my iPads works well in these areas.

  • Matiaz says:

    Everything was fine until the last update, 10.11.2, now my magic mouse disconnects from time to time if I stop using it for a couple of seconds, this is very annoying Apple -.- they didn’t fix a sh!t

  • Tim says:

    I’ve been having this issue with my Mid-2012 MPBr 15″ ever since 10.11.0. The recent 10.11.2 update got my hopes up because of the release notes, but the problem has since returned. Glad (and sad) to see others with the same issue. I’ll check back with any info I come across.

    • Gunter says:

      I have the similar computer and the same exact issue and it still continues as of today July 29, 2017. Have the latest updated version of Sierra 10.12.6. My mouse’s erratic behavior even right now goes on like crazy. I certainly believe that it is a software bug, not a hardware problem at all. It does the same crazy movements as I use Logitech external mouse. It does not matter whether magic mouse or else. I even turned of 5GHz internet connection that I suspected it, but it was not.

  • It’s not just iMacs. My 2012 Mac mini has these same issues: My Apple BT keyboard disconnects very often, say once every couple of minutes, and my Microsoft BT mouse behaves erratically, with the cursor suddenly disappearing or moving far away. And if anything the problem has gotten much worse with 10.11.2. No fix there.

    It may not even be a Bluetooth problem. I had this same erratic behavior with a USB mouse before I switched to that Bluetooth one, including the mouse losing USB power. The problem may lie in the USB bus that handles keyboards and mice.

    We need to escalate this problem in a way that’ll get Apple’s attention. Start encouraging those having these problems who’re still under warranty to take their Macs in for service. Replacing all the hardware you’ve detailed above will cost Apple a lot of money and will be particularly irritating to management when the problem remains unfixed.

    Mine isn’t under warranty, but I may try the slow drip approach. At the end of every day when I’ve been troubled with those issues, I plan to file a trouble report.

    And to show how bad it is, both problems have come up while I’ve typed this short note. I write and edit books. This problem is costing me an irritatingly large amount of time.

    –Mike Perry

    • Hi Michael,

      just the other day I noticed keyboard issues on my 12″ Retina MacBook running 10.11.2. So I agree, this problem is not limited to BT but affects INPUT in general.

  • Definitely not Bluetooth—or at least not just Bluetooth. I pulled the batteries out of my BT mouse and installed a USB one. There’s still the same madness, with the mouse pointer suddenly moving when the mouse hasn’t moved.

    My next move is to look for a compact USB keyboard, so I can turn off Bluetooth entirely to see if these glitches are totally independent of Bluetooth. This is a really irritating bug.

  • Stand up and cheer! Googling all over for a solution to this problem, I got more and more confused. It was appearing on so many differing Macs and with mouses from all sorts of vendors that it was hard to believe the problem was hardware. It also seem to date back a version of two in OS X, which made me wonder what kind of bug this might be.

    Then on one webpage a guy made a quiet remark that for himself and everyone he knew the problem went away if you:

    1. Went to System Preference—General

    2. Unchecked “Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices”

    3. Restarted your Mac.

    I tried that and, wonder of wonders, my almost continual problem went away. No mad mouse behavior at all. Even the occasional BT keyboard disconnect seems to have disappeared. It’s almost like having a new Mac.

    The fix also fits with my observation that the behavior was like having a “ghost mouse” attached giving random mouse movements based on electromagnetic noise. Rather than only listen for an iCloud device when one was formally attached (like it ought), OS X seems to be listening all the time and interpreting random 2.4 GHz noise as mouse input. Turn off that listening altogether, and the problem disappears.

    You might respond if that seems to help or not help with your situation.

    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

    • I heard that before but never followed up on it. I have disabled that now on my Mac. Let’s see how it goes. I also got a response from Apple R&D saying my bug report is a duplicate, so they are aware of the issue.

    • Jerry says:

      Turning off Handoff seems to have worked for me, though its only been a couple of days now.

      I first started having this problem only when I placed a particular backup drive near my Mac, and assumed it was interference. But recently I started having it more frequently with no clear explanation regarding interference. Thought my bluetooth trackpad was going bad, it was an old one. So I got one of the new pricey trackpads and that had the same problem. Very frustrating.

      Thanks for this tip. Handoff seems like a nice concept but it never worked all that reliably. Still needs more R&D at Apple.

    • axlotl says:

      This worked! Months of stab-myself-in-the-face frustration vanquished with three simple steps.

      • gregory says:

        Fantastic – turning off Handoff worked for me as well. I was worried that there was more of a hardware issue occurring. Many thanks for sharing!

  • The preference tweak has certainly fixed my problem. No more mouse woes—at least with a USB mouse—and the BT keyboard disconnects are far rarer. Tim Cook should be happy. I was going to send him a bill for all my lost time.

    My hunch is that “Allow Handoff” is a bit like leaving a door unlocked. It’s not the entire problem. That erratic mouse data has to come from somewhere. But it does provide a path for other problems to get in and wreak havoc.

    • I should correct that to no more really weird mouse woes. My BT keyboard no longer disconnects every 10 minutes or so and my mice (BT or USB) aren’t making giant leaps across the screen anymore. That was the largest problem. But I’m wondering if it is the only one.

      Working with Photoshop this afternoon, I’ve been struck by a slight sluggishness in the response of both a USB and a Bluetooth mouse. It’s like there’s just enough hesitation when I make a mouse movement to sense but not enough to be obvious. Delays in mouse movement that might have once been a few hundredth of a second are now a tenth of a second or so. I’ve used Macs for a quarter of a century now and I’ve never noticed this before. It must be new.

      I’m wondering if Apple has made some tweaks in how mouse input is handled for some other purpose, i.e. Hand Off, new IO devices or whatever, and unintentionally screwed it up for users who need fine and precise mouse adjustments. And I don’t seem to be the only one. I seem to recall a coming across a gamer website when I was looking for a fix to this problem. Gamers need a fast and quick mouse, and they were not only complaining about delays in comparison to Windows, but suggesting a conspiracy theory—that Apple was tilting IO in favor of its own high-profit-margin devices.

      I don’t know about that. I do know that I now prefer working on my seven-old MacBook running 10.7.5 to my far more recent Mac mini running 10.11.2. The mouse on it is smooth and responsive in a way that the mouse on Apple’s newest OS isn’t. It’s like the latter has some ‘irritation factor’ built in, one so slight I’m not supposed to notice but do, partly because I shift between 10.7 and 10.11 several times a day.

      Someone who can run multiple versions of OS X on similar hardware back to 10.7 might want to see it they can put some hard facts to this subjective impression.

  • Joe says:

    Fyi, unchecking “Allow Handoff” does nothing to improve the problem for me. I still experience the same erratic “sticky” cursor and random disconnects, roughly every half hour or so.

    Also it doesn’t date back a version or two in OS X – it started with El Capitan. I can reboot the same hardware into Yosemite from another drive, and the problem is gone.

    • I’m sorry that your problems have continued. Before, my Mac was becoming almost unworkable with the mouse-driven cursor jumping all over every few seconds. I turned off Allow Handoff, and both my BT and USB mice have been perfectly well-behaved since. Even the random BT keyboard disconnects have gone away.

      That problem has been around for a while, but was manageable. It only turned terrible after the most recent upgrade to El Capitan, an upgrade not the version that originally shipped. My hunch is that Apple has been tweaking the I/O to handle new features with additional I/O paths and more powerful versions of BT, and that’s created several issues. My 2012 Mac mini is pretty bare bones, so that may keep my issues down. It only needed on fix.

      As a radio ham, I’ve never been impressed with Apple’s zeal to make I/O as wireless as possible. I know just how cluttered the spectrum can be in urban areas. Signals on one frequency can mix in rusting rain gutters and the like with those on another and result in signals all over the spectrum. It is call intermodulation. So your RF environment may be a factor. You might see if the problems goes away with both WiFi and BT turned off. That would at least cut off the input.

      I’m residential, with no radio towers nearby and woods on two sides. In my case, it looked like there was a door left open through which random radio noise could get in and be treated like