All These Icons Used By Apple Have Vintage, Non-Digital Origins

command keyWhat the heck does that command symbol really mean?

Apple’s icons and designs are a big deal. Apple defines itself as a design company, for instance. It prides itself on making the most beautiful as well as the most functional products.

Part of Apple’s design philosophy is to keep things simple: The company believes that users shouldn’t need instructions on how to operate its gadgets, it should just be obvious.

One way Apple has achieved that is by using a series of longstanding icons that we’ve all come to recognise. These symbols are so familiar, we don’t need to be told what to do.

Apple has mostly followed a “skeuomorphic design” strategy: its symbols look like literal representations of the objects they represent, so the Newsstand app appears to have wooden shelves, just like an actual newsstand. (And at one point there was a sort of civil war inside the company over whether this skeuomorphism had gone too far.)

As such, a lot of Apple’s icons have decidedly vintage, non-digital origins. We bet you don’t know what the curly square on the command key started out as, for example …

It's actually taken from a Swedish road sign used to indicate tourist attractions.

The story goes that Steve Jobs became annoyed that the Apple symbol was being used too much on devices in 1983. So bitmap artist Susan Kare looked through a book of international symbols to replace the Apple command, and picked one that denotes campground attractions and ancient monuments in Scandinavia. It's been there ever since.

It is sometimes also called the pretzel key.

This is Apple's famous logo. It originates from something that has nothing to do with computers ...

Apple's original logo showed Newton sitting under an apple tree, where he was inspired to develop his theory of gravity. Apples were also one of founder Steve Jobs' favourite fruits.

Ever wondered where the Siri (or voice dictation) icon comes from?

It's a stylised version of a vintage microphone from the early 20th Century.

This icon tells you how much power you have left in your phone. In real life, however ...

Apple's batteries look nothing like the traditional battery symbol it uses. In most Apple products, you can't even see the batteries.

The video icon has nothing to do with digital video ...

It's a movie slate clapperboard, the thing they use to mark scenes to make film editing easier.

If you haven't examined the App Store icon closely you might not have noticed that ...

This ought to be an easy one: You know this is the iPhone's phone call symbol. But Apple has never made a phone that looks like that ...

The symbol comes from this type of rotary dial phone, which hasn't been in general use since the early 1990s.

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