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How Apple Keyboards Lost a Logo and Windows PCs Gained One

How Apple Keyboards Lost a Logo and Windows PCs Gained One
Daniel Eran Dilger
A variety of bloggers have been commenting on the removal of the Apple logo from the new aluminum keyboards on the refreshed iMac release this week. They’ve explained why Steve Jobs took the Apple logo off back in the mid 80s, but nobody explains how it snuck back on since then.

En Español:
Como fue que los teclados de Apple perdieron un logo y las PC con Windows ganaron uno
Traducción: Cuauhtémoc Amox

[New Apple Hardware: iMac, Mac mini, AirPort, RAID]

Before the Mac.
Prior to the Macintosh, Apple was making its money from the Apple II line. Not only was the company’s development of the Macintosh sponsored entirely by Apple II sales, but sales of those earlier computers kept it alive through an unexpectedly weak initial demand for Macs.
iMac keyboard
The Apple II was an 8-bit computer based on the 6502 processor. It launched Apple to fame in large part due to the built-in color capabilities designed by Steve Wozniak, Apple’s cofounder and original hardware genius. The Woz also included eight expansion slots in his design, ensuring that the Apple II could adapt to fit new uses with expansion cards. Steve Jobs reportedly argued against the slots as unnecessary in a consumer PC

The Apple II keyboard had a variety of keys patterned after the conventions of teletype systems from the 1970s, including a control key, which when typed with a letter, would invoke a special action. The Apple III, released to commercial failure in 1980, was designed with two new Apple logo keys: one a solid logo and one an outline.

apple iie III
After the Apple III failed, Apple recycled portions of its technology into new Apple II products, including its SOS, the Sophisticated Operating System. Released in 1983, the Apple IIe added those two special Apple logo keys on either side of the space bar: an “Open Apple” and “Closed Apple” key, each of which could be used to perform special character combinations. These keys were also mapped to the buttons on Apple’s analog joystick control.

Apple continued to sell the Apple IIe for the next ten years, making it one of the longest lasting models of a desktop computer ever.

[1980-1985: 8-bit Platforms]


Lisa and the Mac.
For its new leap into the 80s, Apple developed an entirely new platform based on the much more powerful Motorola 68000 processor. The Lisa and the Mac both intended to serve as a complete computing package, a clean break from the earlier computers designed to act like text-based terminals.

Their bit-mapped graphic display allowed them to draw any character in any typeface. The groundbreaking technology of the Lisa positioned it as a pricey business machine; it also shipped with a complete suite of office applications.

While significantly cheaper than the $16,000 graphical systems developed by Xerox, the Lisa still didn’t capture widespread attention with its $10,000 price. At a more affordable $2500, the Macintosh did. It promised to bring the cutting edge of graphical computing–originally envisioned by Xerox–to regular desktop users, enhanced with Apple’s software tools to develop applications with a consistent overall user interface.

[1985-1990: 16-bit Graphical Computing]

Apple Macintosh

New Keys for a New Platform.
The original Mac keyboard needed to provide keys for commands similar to the Open Apple key used by the Apple II. Because its graphical display could depict the key’s logo right in the onscreen menus, Jobs decided that using an Apple logo would cheapen the brand by littering scores of Apple logos throughout its menus.

In place of the Apple logo, a more generic propeller icon was found for the Mac keyboard:

Mac propeller icon

Andy Hertzfeld explained on Folklore.org that Mac icon artist Susan Kare selected the new Command key icon from a symbol used to represent features of interest on campground maps in Sweden.

[Macintosh Stories: Swedish Campground - Folklore]

 Rd Rdm.Tech.Q3.07 5F38E4Ef-76Ba-4025-8Bab-Bc4B634Dc59E Files Macplus Keyboard

The Mac also got an Option key for typing alternative key characters. Used with or without the shift, it provided a way to enter four different letters per key.

Option could also be used in key sequences with the shift and Command key, and in later versions of the Mac OS, characters could also be assigned diacritical marks using the Option key.

For example, an umlaut can be added to a character by typing Option and U to get the two dots, ¨ then typing the desired character to add it underneath, such as ë. Windows requires users to type in an arbitrary number sequence to enter such a character: type Alt plus 0235, or look it up on a visual chart of keys.

The Apple II Strikes Back.
The hardware required by features of the Mac, particularly the increased RAM it required to deliver a graphical display, made it too expensive for many home and education users.

Apple continued to make more money on the Apple II than the Macintosh. In an effort to update the rapidly aging Apple II line and give it some of the capabilities of the Macintosh, Apple released the Apple IIGS in 1986.

Largely the brainchild of Wozniak, the Apple IIGS used a 16-bit version of the 6502, the 65C816, later used in the Super Nintendo. It was also Apple’s first graphical system that rendered a QuickDraw-based windowing environment in color, although its limited display resolution hampered its capabilities.

[Why Apple Hasn't Used Intel Processors Before]

ADB Keyboards.
Another pioneering bit of technology first delivered in the Apple IIGS was Apple Desktop Bus, a way to connect together a variety of input devices using a standard port. Prior to ADB, the early Macs’ keyboard connected via a telephone-style RJ11 cable, while the mouse used its own DB9 connector like the original Atari joysticks.

With ADB, a mouse could be connected to either side of the keyboard for right or left handed users, and additional trackballs, graphic tablets, and even other keyboards could all be chained together without any serial port configurations.

A year later in 1987, IBM released its new vision of the PC, called PS/2; it only offered a standard port for the mouse and another identical but unique port for the keyboard, a mistake that would plague PC users for the next two decades. Earlier PCs had used a mouse connected to a regular serial port.

Apple’s new ADB system was intended to be used on the Mac as well, so Apple incorporated both the control and Apple logo keys used by Apple II software and the Command and Option keys used on the Mac. Starting with the Apple IIGS, the Open Apple key officially became the Command key, and the Closed Apple key was assigned to Option. Apple II users continued to call it “Open Apple.”


Command Control Confusion.
Merging the conventions of the 80s Mac and the 70s Apple II also resulted in the control key being left to perform terminal emulation functions, while the command key was kept unique to commands used in the graphical desktop environment.

Standard Apple key combinations, such as Command O to open a file, had no equal in the mixed up world of DOS, where every app invented its own key combinations. To simply open a file:

  • WordPerfect used the command F7 + 3.
  • WordStar used Ctrl + K + O.
  • Lotus 1-2-3 used / to open the menu, W for Workspace + R for Retrieve.
  • Microsoft Word used Esc to open the menu, T for Transfer + L for Load.

When Microsoft delivered Windows as its copycat, competing version of the Mac desktop for DOS users, it simply mapped the standard key commands Apple had originated–including the familiar Command S, Z, X, C, V for save, undo, cut, copy, paste–to control key combinations on the PC. This was another shortsighted PC mistake that would become an unsolvable annoyance for users.

[1985-1990: 16-bit Graphical Computing]


Blaming Apple for Microsoft’s Mistake.
Microsoft later used its OEM leverage with Windows 95 to get PC hardware makers to put a Microsoft logo key on their keyboards. However, since Microsoft had already assigned common key shortcuts to the control key, there was little for the new Windows key to do apart from opening the Start menu.

DOS software makers and users were at first reluctant to adopt the new key shortcuts Apple had designated as part of the Mac human interface guidelines, preferring to type the unintuitive codes they’d grown accustomed to.

A decade after Microsoft copied Apple’s Command key but mixed it up with control, many Windows Enthusiasts think the problem lies with Apple’s “non standard” use of Command rather than control. It seems they don’t understand why it is useful to draw a distinction between control-C, used to cancel an operation in a terminal environment, and Command-C, used to copy content in a desktop setting. There is no difference in Windows.

Microsoft also added a special key for opening contextual menus, featuring the icon of a pointer on a menu. The key simply acts like the right mouse button; it’s not only superfluous and clumsy for PCs using two button mice, but also less elegant than Apple’s convention for using control-clicking to bring up a menu with the mouse.

Microsoft’s contextual menu key is also typically placed on the right side of the keyboard, making it even more puzzlingly useless for right handed users. They’d have to hit the right side of the keyboard with their left hand while pointing the mouse with their right. What was Microsoft’s Chief Architect thinking?

Most Windows PC users are unaware of the use of either the Windows key or the contextual menu key, and some PC hardware makers refused to add the keys to their keyboards, the most notable being IBM.

PC Keyboard

Mac Integration with Windows.
As it became increasingly useful for Mac users to emulate Windows or work in shared environments, the Option key on Macs became equated with the Alt key on PCs, and the Command key was associated with the ineffectual Windows Start button.

Microsoft now has no way to undo its mistake of mixing up control and Command, meaning that users moving between the Mac OS and Windows have to do some extra thinking to know which key to hit, a problem that is particularly annoying in a virtual environment.

Since Mac keyboards no longer need to support the idea of the Apple II’s Open Apple key, and since non-technical users had no way to guess that the Command key is represented by an Apple logo and a propeller, the latest keyboards now simply have the word “command” on them.

And so it is that Apple keyboards now lack the Apple logo, while PC keyboards have a Microsoft logo that does little.

Design Keyboard20070807 1

That’s certainly not the only example of the unsolvable issues for PCs created by the combination of Microsoft’s overwhelmingly powerful monopoly marketing muscle and its weak and flawed technical contributions. Microsoft has delayed the progress of new technology into mainstream in far more significant ways, which also relate to the scandalous past of Daniel Lyons, the real FSJ…

[Daniel Lyons: Fake Steve Jobs and the SCO Shill Who Hated Linux]

Daniel Lyons: Fake Steve Jobs and the SCO Shill Who Hated Linux]

What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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  • iamseanw

    I took a graphic design course a couple years back using Macs. The command keys didn’t have the word “command” on them, they had the command symbol and the apple logo. The PC users were calling the command key the “apple key” and the “splat key.” It was quite annoying. Perhaps this had some impact on the decision to remove the apple logo from the key.

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  • Mac128

    Here’s something interesting.

    1. The Apple key was first used on the Apple ///, Steve Jobs’ first big failure at Apple. Then, he was kicked out of the Apple //e project which re-used the Apple key and then, out of the Lisa project which also used the Apple key. In fact, by contrast, the Lisa had Apples all over its menus. Then Jobs set the Macintosh team against the rest of Apple. So it’s no surprise he wanted to distance himself from the Apple key and related implementation.

    2. Since the introduction of the Apple key on the Apple ///, every stand-alone Apple keyboard has had the Apple/Command key until 2007 (including the Newton keyboard). Except two: the original Macintosh keyboard and the Macintosh Plus keyboard, which instead used the propeller icon. Of those, only the Plus keyboard did not include an Apple logo on the face of the keyboard (there wasn’t room). Every other keyboard Apple built included a logo as well as the Apple key until 2007. Like the Mac Plus keyboard, the new Aluminum keyboards have no Apple logos on their face AND they dropped the Apple from the Command key, essentially dropping any identifiable marks branding the new keyboard as manufactured by Apple. Only the propeller icon ties it to the Mac and that’s a generic icon. So in a very real sense, the Apple icon on the Command key helps brand Apple’s current line of peripheral keyboards. That alone is reason enough to bring keep it. As far as branding logos goes, all other Apple products have always had a visible logo on them, except their current line of keyboards … oh and the Mac Plus keyboard.

    3. Steve Jobs still needing to distance himself from the Apple key after 28 years … priceless!

  • http://web.mac.com/bderwest BdeRWest

    “So in a very real sense, the Apple icon on the Command key helps brand Apple’s current line of peripheral keyboards. That alone is reason enough to bring keep it. As far as branding logos goes, all other Apple products have always had a visible logo on them, except their current line of keyboards”

    Look branding everything with an Apple is one thing, but do you really think someone is going to confuse the shiny white-and-aluminum keyboard for something other than Apple?

    I completely agree with Apple’s decision to use the Apple logo more sparingly. I wish it weren’t on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard.

    In fact, I wish my keyboards were like Apple’s foreign-language keyboards. I.e., instead of “ctrl” I would see ^, instead of “alt option” I would see ⌥, instead of “shift” I would see ⇧, instead of “caps lock” I would see ⇪… Much nicer, UHO.

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  • dplynx

    The context menu key in Windows is to allow operation without a mouse.

    With a mouse, you would right-click to open a context menu in Windows. The menu key on Windows keyboards does not compete with control-click.

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