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Amazing Apple Anecdote: The Story Behind The Command Key Logo

Posted in Miscellaneous on 12/11/2012 by Henry Taylor-Gill

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We’re back with another Amazing Apple Anecdote for you to enjoy. This week’s pretty special: the learn the surprising origin of the command key logo.

(image credit: Gizmodo)

Andy Hertzfeld recalls (via Folklore):

We thought it was important for the user to be able to invoke every menu command directly from the keyboard, so we added a special key to the keyboard to invoke menu commands, just like our predecessor, Lisa. We called it the “Apple key”; when pressed in combination with another key, it selected the corresponding menu command. We displayed a little Apple logo on the right side of every menu item with a keyboard command, to associate the key with the command.

One day, late in the afternoon, Steve Jobs burst into the software fishbowl area in Bandley III, upset about something. This was not unusual. I think he had just seen MacDraw for the first time, which had longer menus than our other applications.

“There are too many Apples on the screen! It’s ridiculous! We’re taking the Apple logo in vain! We’ve got to stop doing that!”

After we told him that we had to display the command key symbol with each item that had one, he told us that we better find a different symbol to use instead of the Apple logo, and, because it affected both the manuals and the keyboard hardware, we only had a few days to come up with something else.

It’s difficult to come up with a small icon that means “command”, and we didn’t think of anything right away. Our bitmap artist Susan Kare had a comprehensive international symbol dictionary and she leafed through it, looking for an appropriate symbol that was distinctive, attractive and had at least something to do with the concept of a menu command.

Finally she came across a floral symbol that was used in Sweden to indicate an interesting feature or attraction in a campground. She rendered a 16 x 16 bitmap of the little symbol and showed it to the rest of the team, and everybody liked it. Twenty years later, even in OS X, the Macintosh still has a little bit of a Swedish campground in it.

If you’ve managed to concentrate fully on the story and not on the photo, then you’ll know that the source is pretty surprising, but it shows to just what lengths Apple went to find ideas. That’s all for this week, but we’ll be back soon with more. For now though, share and enjoy!



  • Nairbjr

    I didn’t even see the command symbol the first time. I was looking at those stomachs, wow!

  • clasqm

    NEWSFLASH: Swedish campground authority sues Apple for copyright violation, demands 40 years back payment …

    • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

      Ha! Wouldn’t be all that surprising, really.

Author

Henry Taylor-Gill

Henry is a student who is a huge Apple fan, and has used their products since day one. He can remember how happy he was when he received the first iPod back in 2001 as a birthday present. He has an international background, having spent most of his life in France but he now lives in the UK. He is also a native French speaker and can also speak Spanish at a decent level. In addition to tech, Henry is an avid sports fan and has his own sports blog.