What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards?

What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards?
4 min read
10 December 2021

Anyone who's ever used a computer keyboard is familiar with the Control key, but Mac users will know that in addition to Control, you get a button that says Command with this weird looking symbol, that kind of looks like a drone or maybe a four-leaf clover. So why does Apple have this extra key? And what is that little thingy, anyway?

So Apple computers have long had Control keys on them, which themselves date back to the age of teletype machines, which allowed users to interact with big old mainframes.What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards? And just as it is now, the idea was that holding the key down while pressing another one would activate some kind of special function you couldn't get just by pressing a single key. Specifically, they'd make it possible for the users to control the computer through the keyboard, hence the name, instead of just typing in printable characters.

But that wasn't quite enough for the perfectionists at Apple, as these Control key functions were mostly only useful when you were using one of those super old school terminals that only displayed a limited number of text characters, no graphics and didn't feature mouse support.What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards? So Apple wanted to give their users a way to issue more useful commands quickly. So they put a couple of special keys on their keyboards starting in the early 1980s. Many Apple machines of this era had an open Apple and a closed Apple key, also called a solid Apple key, which would allow for more shortcuts.What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards? For example, open Apple + A would select everything in a window as opposed to Control + A, which would move the cursor to the beginning of the line.

The general idea was to allow users to more quickly access menu items without having to actually open a menu. An idea that became even more important when the original Macintosh and its famous GUI were introduced in 1984.

But why did they change open Apple to Command? By the time the Mac was being developed, Steve Jobs was tired of seeing the Apple logo all over the company's products. It's not minimalistic at all. In addition to the two Apple keys on the keyboard, the Apple logo was also on the OS menus themselves. As you can see in this screenshot from the Apple Lisa, the Mac's predecessor, What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards?Jobs believed this cheapened the company's logo and took it in vain. I'm thinking very highly of himself clearly. So Apple introduced this loopy, square-looking symbol to use instead of the open Apple, and the modern Command key was born.

To this day, the loop square Command key is still the main modifier key on Macs, functioning similarly to the Control key on Windows machines.What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards? Macs retained the Control key, not only for enabling even more keyboard shortcuts, but also to preserve some of those original terminal functions, which are often used by folks who program on Macs.

So as we mentioned earlier, Control + A on a PC and Control + A on a Mac do totally different things. It's not even remotely similar things, would send your pictures to everyone.

As for the closed Apple key, that functions more like the Alt key on a PC. It wasn't used as much as Command, but it stuck around and ultimately evolved into the key that's labeled Option on modern Macs.What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards? But how exactly did the Command key get that funny symbol? Turns out it happened basically by chance. After jobs decided he wanted a new symbol an artist that worked for Apple happened upon the loop square in a reference book. The symbol was, and still is, used in the Nordic countries on road signs to indicate tourist attractions and cultural places of interest. What's That Weird Symbol on Apple Keyboards?The rest of the Mac dev team found the symbol appealing. And it's been on Apple keyboards ever since. 

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Den W. 2.8K
I'm a passionate tech enthusiast who loves diving into the world of software, programming, and tech reviews.
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