9/1/219:00 am The Secret History of Mac Keyboard Keys What does the Command key symbol mean? Or the Option key symbol? Where is the Backspace key? How is Caps Lock on a Mac different than Windows? Learn a little bit about the keys on your Mac keyboard. Video Transcript: Hi, this is Gary with MacMost.com. Today let's talk about the history of your Mac keyboard. MacMost is brought to you thanks to a great group of more than 1000 supporters. Go to MacMost.com/patreon. There you could read more about the Patreon Campaign. Join us and get exclusive content and course discounts. Now we all use the Mac keyboard all the time but have you ever thought about the individual keys. How did the Command key get that weird symbol on it. Why is there a Delete key and not a backspace key. Let's go through some of these keys. I have a lot of interesting stuff to tell you. First let's start with the Command key. Now the Command key, of course, is used all the time. It's the main modifier key for Keyboard Shortcuts, Command C, Command Q, and so forth. But the symbol on it is kind of weird. It looks like this. What is this symbol and how did it end up on the Command key? Now originally if you go back to the first Apple computers they didn't have anything like Command key. But later on when we got to the Apple 2E and they started adding these Apple keys. The solid Apple key and the outline Apple key. Now Apple didn't actually add extra keys to the Apple 2 Computer. What they did is they mapped the joystick button. You got an Apple joystick and it had two buttons on it. These Apple keys actually mapped to the buttons on the joystick which it made it easier to play some games if you just had a keyboard. But it also added a level functionality where the up or down state of these keys could be read by software and then could be used kind of as a modifier key. So when it came time to build the Macintosh there was going to be an Apple key on it. It was going to be used just like we use the Command key now. But the story goes that once everything neared completion if you looked in the Menus it gave you the keyboard shortcuts which would have an Apple symbol and say the letter C and then X and then V. There were just the Apple symbols all up and down the menus. Steve Jobs didn't like that. There were just too many Apple symbols and it was the company's logo. He didn't want it to be used over and over again like that. So he asked the designers to come up with a new character. They looked and found this symbol. This was the symbol that was used on some maps, particularly in Scandinavia to denote an attraction or a special location. Probably it's supposed to look like a castle, like a castle with four towers which of course throughout Europe would have been a lot of the attractions you would see on a map. It's officially called a Looped Square. But there's a lot of different names for this symbol. Steve Jobs liked it and they used it and it became the symbol for the Command key on the Mac. But have you ever heard that referred to as the Apple Key. Somebody saying use Apple C or Apple Q. Well there's a reason for that. You see in the 80's Mac's had an external keyboard. Originally the Apple 2 had a keyboard that was part of the computer itself. But with the Apple 2GS there was an external keyboard and Apple actually only produced one keyboard that could be used for Macs and also for the Apple 2GS. But the problem was the Apple 2GS needed an Apple key and the Mac's needed a Command key. So they simply put both symbols on the keyboard. It stayed like that. It stayed like that all the way to 2007 for some Mac models. Here you see one of the earliest PowerBooks and it has an Apple and a Command symbol on the Command key. So a lot of people started using Macs seeing both symbols. They didn't know what the other one was called so they simply referred to it as the Apple key. Next up we've got the Option key. The Option key also has a special symbol on it. This symbol is simply the called the Option Key Character. Now what is it supposed to be. Well, there's no official explanation but everybody pretty much agrees it looks like a switch. Either an electronics switch or a perhaps train tracks. You could see how if you had switched to another track it kind of follows the path of this symbol. So when you're typing on the keyboard if you want an optional character you hold down the Option Key and it's like a shift of your keyboard all the way to this other track where you get different characters and you press the keys. Of course sometimes people refer to the Option Key as the Alt Key. On Windows there is an Alt Key and on the Mac there's an Option Key. But for years Apple actually put the abbreviation in addition to the word Option on the key. So you can understand the confusion. The Alt key on Windows and the Option key on the Mac do similar things. So it kind of makes sense and when you switch between Mac and Windows keyboards they are in the same spot. Next we have the Control Key. Now Control Key is pretty simple. But, of course, it does bring to light something interesting. Windows has a Control key and the Control key on Windows is like the Command Key on the Mac. However, on the Mac you also have a Control Key. This is probably the number one thing that confuses people that switch from Windows to Mac. The Mac originally didn't even have a Control Key. But when using Terminal to actually type commands you still use Control and the letter. Not Command. So the Control Key, to this day, is still used for most commands in the Terminal. Use the Command Key for most commands when you're using the User Interface. But in fact the Command, Option, Control, and the Shift key all acts as a modifier keys and they can all be used for Keyboard Shortcuts. The Caret is the symbol that you use mostly to represent the Control Key. No one is really sure why that is but it kind of makes sense that it is an up arrow showing that you're shifting up to a higher level of control from the keyboard. But the up arrow character from early days of computing actually became the caret key later on. It's something easier to type and than finding a symbol. Then nowadays we use the up arrow mostly to represent Shift. Now let's take a look at what could be the fifth modifier key. The fn key. You'll find that mostly at the bottom left hand corner of Apple keyboards. A lot of older extended keyboards have it near the Home and End Button in the middle of the keyboard. What this does is it changes the functionality of another set of keys, the F keys which are here at the top of keyboards unless, of course, you've got a TouchBar. The F-keys are also called Function Keys or Special Feature Keys. They actually do two kinds of things. The F-Keys allow you to either trigger special functions in apps known as keys like F1, F2, F3. Or they do special features of your Mac. Like the brightness of the screen or volume. Now which one it does depends on your Settings in System Preferences, Keyboard and then Keyboard tab then you see a checkbox right here that has you toggle how they work. So you can either have these keys work as F-keys by just pressing them or you have to hold the fn key down, or you could switch out with a Special Features keys. If you use apps like PhotoShop and such then you probably like to use these F-Keys for all sorts of shortcuts in there. But if you don't use complex steps like that that don't use the F-Keys then you probably rarely ever want to trigger F1, F2, or F3. You just want to use the Special Features on those keys. Now the fn key is what allows us to toggle back and forth. But the fn key actually has interesting history because originally the computer wouldn't even recognize if the fn key was pressed. The keyboard itself would change and send different signals to the computer depending upon if the fn key was held down. That's not true anymore for the Mac. Because, as a matter of fact, the fn key could be used for a bunch of different things. You could press it twice by default to start dictation. It's also used in the very latest Macs to actually trigger the Emoji and Special Character Viewer. In fact you even see the little globe there in the key that shares that space with the fn now. Here's another key you may be wondering about. The Escape key. The Escape key originally was a way for early computers and terminals to stop the execution of something. Like sending a message over a terminal you could hit the Escape key to stop it. But it's really no longer used for that. However, on the Mac you can use it for some interesting things like, for instance, instead of clicking the Cancel button when a dialogue is up there like Printing or Saving you can use the Escape key to cancel it. One thing I find interesting about the Escape key but I don't have any information for is why is it abbreviated ESC all the time. It's ESC pretty much almost across all platforms. Here on the Mac you can see escape is actually one less character than the word Command and the same number of characters as Delete. So why is it abbreviated at all? Why isn't is spelled out Escape. Now here's a key that generates a lot of controversy. The Caps Lock key. The Caps Lock key, a lot of people think, should be eliminated. There's really no use for it in modern computing. I agree with them. Typing in all caps indicates that you're shouting. If you send somebody an email or text message using all caps, or even if part of the message is in all caps, you're saying I'm angry at you and I'm yelling at you. So it's kind of rude to ever use it. If you want to capitalize a bunch of letters in a row it's just as easy to hold the Shift key down as you type. But on the other hand the Caps Lock key sometimes gets stuck down while you're typing and you don't realize it and you end up with a bunch of stuff you have to retype or even when you're typing in a password sometimes the Caps Lock key is stuck down and you're typing the wrong password because you're typing capital letters instead of lower case. So I agree that the Caps Lock key should be eliminated and replaced with something else. You actually can disable the Caps Lock key in System Preferences. So if you don't want to use it anymore you can just disable it or set it to something else. Another interesting thing about the Caps Lock key is it works differently on the Mac than it does on other computers. On other computers, for instance Windows computers, if you activate Caps Lock then you hold the Shift key down you're actually typing lower case letters. On the Mac the Caps Lock is on it's upper case letters even if you hold the Shift key down. Here's another one that's controversial because the Delete key on the Mac actually is the backspace key just about everywhere else. It's on the Mac that it's called Delete. Backspace is very literal. It will actually delete the previous character. It will go back one space. Of course on typewriters it would actually just have gone back one space without deleting because you can't delete if you're actually typing on paper. But that would allow people to add things like accent marks above letters. The backspace key on computers will delete the previous character. So Apple just calls that Delete. If you ever want to Delete forward on a Mac all you need to do is use that fn key and press Delete and it will Delete forward instead of backwards. Here's a key that maybe even more antiquated than Caps Lock except we've actually found a use for it in computing. It's the Tab key. On a typewriter Tab would actually jump to a predefined area to allow you to create columns. So you can create columns of numbers. It's actually short for tabulation. On a computer you can tab inside a word processor. Actually there's pretty advanced tabbing functionality. But we also can insert tables and things like that. So you don't really use it that much anymore. But we now use Tab a lot in order to move to the next thing. The next field in a webform. The next user interface element in a dialogue box. Even the next cell in a spreadsheet. That leaves us with one last key. One that's evolved over time. Originally at the top right corner of the keyboard there was an eject key. That would allow you to eject media like, for instance, a CD-ROM or a DVD that you had in your Mac. But it's also been used as a power key to allow you to turn your Mac On or Off button by holding it. But the most recent evolution of this key is now as a Touch ID key. You'll find that on the latest MacBook Airs and you'll also find it on the new keyboard that Apple has for the iMac. So this works as a power key and it also has Touch ID to make it easier to enter passwords. So there's a look at some history and some facts about the keys on your Mac Keyboard. Hope you found this interesting. Thanks for watching. Related Subjects: Mac Hardware (43 videos) Related Video Tutorials: No related posts. Comments: 12 Responses to “The Secret History of Mac Keyboard Keys” Scott 2 years ago A good insight into a mac. I'm new to mac for about 3 weeks now. I've only used Windows for years and I'm trying to get use to the mac. I'm using a Macbook Air and I love it. Don't think I'll buy anymore windows. Your videos have been a great help. Thank you. Scott Karl 2 years ago Excellent video Gary. I learned something new today. I think the escape key was smaller at one time, thus only the ESC was printed on it. I’ve been told that emergency dispatchers use all caps when typing in information to keep everything consistent, not having to press the shift key to capitalize certain words makes for faster data input. I grew up with and learned how to type on the Apple IIe and IIc, loved those computers. brad 2 years ago Typing all caps is much easier with the caps lock key. All caps is much easier for me to read when I print a list. Getting rid of it would piss me off like most of the other changes Apple has made over the years. Fortunately, I don't have many left. Laraine 2 years ago Thanks for the info about the command key, Gary. I've used Macs since 1 May 1986 but I never would have thought it was supposed to represent a castle. I remember when the control key came and all I thought then was, "Oh good! Another key for me to use for making shortcuts!" I use control-option-p to open Pages, for instance, and control-p for Photoshop. Control-shift-q used to open Quicken but I use MyCheckBook now. Since I spell it cheque, I figured I might as well continue using that shortcut Mike 2 years ago Very informative- I have a powermac G4 dual powerPC mirrored drive doors running 10.58 that I keep around to run old software that never made the jump to intel- at some point both "Delete" keys stopped working; I've swapped keyboards with no effect. Any ideas? Gary Rosenzweig 2 years ago Mike: You tried two different keyboards and Delete doesn't work on either? Could be a setting in the OS, but it is hard to say. Erika 2 years ago I can not find an fn key on my Apple keyboard (with my old Mac mini). Gary Rosenzweig 2 years ago Erika: Which model of keyboard do you have? Unless it is very old, it has an fn key. Erika 2 years ago On my keyboard I have an eject key, but no fn key. I took a screenshot of my keyboard, how can I send you the jpg attachment for you to see… Gary Rosenzweig 2 years ago Erika: Post/share it somewhere (iCloud, Imgur, whatever you prefer). Bruce 2 years ago Fascinating history! Been an Apple user since IIe and never knew. As a fiction writer who is a touch-typist there are times in dialog and other areas where I use caps-lock. Touch-typing individual capitals with shift-letter is slow. Screenplay format needs all caps, too. I'm sure there are many other use-cases where the caps-lock key helps users. Macs let you disable caps-lock if you don't need it, so I hope Apple remains inclusive of all its users, including us poor writers. Great video! Jason 2 years ago Very helpful. I've always wanted to learn more about those keys' history :-) One comment that I'll make about the caps lock debate is that in Europe, last names or surnames, are often capitalized. When I lived in France for a few years it was nice to have it when I was entering lots of last names for guests of the hotel where I worked. Comments Closed.