Whether we use a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone, there are always these lovely little symbols that we are just supposed to know and understand their meaning in order to utilize the device with ease.
I am hoping to provide you with a short list of the most common icons or symbols that a user will come across when using a smartphone, or for that matter, browsing the internet.
These symbols more or less, are called icons, and they are often overlooked because they are so ubiquitous. Seen every day without a second thought.
Think about the magnifying glass seen in search bars, or web browsers.
We all know that is the symbol for search, as a magnifying glass is most often related to a detective, who are portrayed with using a magnifying glass to look closer at clues. Hence, the pairing of magnifying glass for the icon for “search”.
When using a smartphone, we come across all forms of icons. Some are universal among technology such as the magnifying glass which we see on the Windows Phone, iPhone, and Android, as well as tablets and computers. Other symbols may be as common as the ones we see on any device such as a DVD player, with the Square to symbolize “Stop”, or the Sideways Triangle symbol for the “Play” button.
In any culture we can recognize these instantly and understand their meaning. Smartphones, and web browsers have newer symbols that might not be as familiar to us as these other icons. Here is a list of the 15 most common icons or symbols you will see.
# 1 Magnifying Glass or the Search Icon
As previously mentioned, the magnifying glass symbol is used to represent the search icon, to enable a user to essentially type in and look for certain content on an app or webpage. The symbol comes from the idea of a detective holding a magnifying glass to “search” for clues. This is a universal symbol across all phone operating systems, whether it be Symbian, Windows, Apples’ iOS, or Google’s Android.
# 2 Cog Wheel or the Settings Icon
This odd looking turn wheel often referred to as a Cog Wheel, is the universal symbol for your settings, whether it’s the settings within an app, or the settings to your phone. It comes in different variations depending on your phone, but it is essentially the same image of wheels turning in a machinery assembly line. This symbol is illustrating the inner workings of a watch or other mechanical device, representing the changes to your smartphone such as fonts, security, and so forth.We sometimes even see the settings icon appear as a wrench crossing diagonally over a hammer. This is to symbolize tools to use to change something.
# 3 Three Horizontal Lines or Dots, known as the Menu Icon
Almost every website is using this new symbol for a menu bar to appear. This is to illustrate a list, or multiple pages you are able to browse through on a webpage. Often times you may see dots paired up with the lines. These lines are also seen as vertical lines with dots above or below them, Web designers often change the symbol to three dots. The new Windows photo app on the Windows 10 Operating System has a menu bar with only these three dots which give you options to edit, or print. These are seen on the Google Chrome app in your mobile device in the upper right hand corner as well and is seen as the three lines on the computer Chrome Browser. In any case, this is to indicate there is a list of options to choose from. You may also see these menu bars in various email applications such as Gmail or Outlook. Even social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook use this Menu Icons.
# 3 The Home Screen
Most mobile users have seen a picture of a house as an icon on their phone or web browsers. Some androids even use it for their main “home” screen button on the bottom middle area. It looks like a small square with an obtuse triangle over the top to symbolize a roof, and sometimes includes a small rectangle for a chimney stack and rectangle in the middle to represent a door. Why is there a picture of a house on your phone or web browser? This is because a home page, or the home screen, is the default webpage or screen your phone is set to.
# 4 The Manila Folder Icon
So many adults keep records in manila folders with tabs on them. Whether it is for bills, or contracts, or school information, these types of folders are the most commonly used way to file our information. Thus, why this icon looks exactly like a folder. Like computers, our phones also have files and hold information. We use this icon to know where things are stored. For android, these folders can show all app information, or downloads, documents stored, or photos stored.
# 5 Battery Icon
This is probably the most self explanatory icon around. It is found at the top right of every type of smartphone. Sometimes showing a percent next to it, or a portion of the battery filled in. This “battery” icon represents the amount of battery life left in your device. Occasionally, a user may need to go into their settings and click on an option to show the battery percentage. Smartphones use lithium ion batteries which do not look like regular batteries, but a familiar symbol is the standard and often times non-rechargeable battery.
# 6 The Tape Cassette or Voicemail Icon
Those of you who receive messages, will often see this notification. It is also located on every smartphones’ dial pad. It looks like a rectangle with a smaller parallel line on the top of the inside, with two round circles under each end of the line. The voicemail icon can often be simplified to just this line with the two circles under each end. Why is this the symbol for your voicemail? Well for those of the readers old enough to remember, the world use to have recorder machines that taped messages on a small cassette tape. This icon is sometimes paired with a symbol for mail to
illustrate a voice “mail”.
# 7 The Comic Book Style Speech Bubble or Text Icon
For the readers familiar with cartoons or comics, this symbol should be very familiar to them. If you happen to pick up a Sunday paper and read the comics section, you will see the characters talking, using these speech bubbles with a small point towards which character is speaking.Text messages are conversations between two people, and so designers have created the icon to match that of the universally known speech bubble. Different messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have variations of these conversation bubbles.
# 8 The Envelope or Email Icon
Before email, there were letters, or more affectionately referred to as, “snail mail”. The envelope represents a letter to someone. Now we most often communicate via email, and it is rare to receive a handwritten letter. On our smartphones, there is always some variation of different colored envelopes to represent emails, whether it be the phones’ native email provided utility, or a downloaded app such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, to have easier access with fully functional menu options for our emails. This is a universal symbol across all smartphones and other smart devices.
# 9 The Phone Icon
As every smartphone user has seen, there is a picture of what looks like an “old fashioned” cord phone from either a rotary or basic corded phone. There are slight variations to this icon, as with all icons we see, based on the phone manufacturer or the operating system (Windows Phone, Apple iPhone, or Android). The obvious reason this image was chosen to represent the phone options for your smartphone, is because it represents what many people are familiar with when associating a phone. This usually leads you to the part of your smartphone where you can check voicemails, or dial contacts or other phone numbers.
#10 The Dotted Grid or Dial Pad Icon
When clicking on the phone icon, you will see another familiar symbol or icon. It is the dotted grid that can either be in a 3 X 3 dotted grid, or 3 X 3 with a dot on the bottom middle column. These dots represent the dial pads that are found on corded or cordless phones.The dots can be filled in or not but always lead you to your dial pad, and depending on which operating system your smartphone is, may look something similar to this image on the right.
# 11 The Rectangle with a Circle in the Middle or Camera Icon
We all love to take pictures with our smartphones. Each new edition of our favorite device comes out with improvements on the camera every year. How do we know where to access this amazing feature on our smartphones? Simple, If we think about what cameras look like, we can associate the picture of the camera to our camera app on the smartphone. It usually looks just like a rectangle with a circle in the middle, sometimes
with a smaller rectangle on the top to represent where a flash would be. Occasionally a user will see a circle with small circle with shapes inside that create the illusion of a shutter for a high definition camera.
# 12 Loud Speaker Microphone Head or Volume Icon
Perhaps one of the most common icons is a picture of what appears to be a loudspeaker. This symbolizes sound, and often is shown with waves coming from the front of the microphone, to indicate sound waves. This is the universal symbol of our volume control, whether it is a smartphone or even a television set. Everyone has seen this picture. This will appear when you turn up or down the volume for media, or phone calls
# 13 The Microphone Icon
This icon is familiar to most all smartphone users, whether it is Android based, or Windows, or iOS. This microphone allows you to do quite a bit. For example, it allows the TTS (talk-to-speech) feature which every smartphone is capable of. It also controls a wide variety of voice commands including, but not limited to, internet searches, social media posts, turning an app on, play music, or even ordering dinner for delivery. Depending on which device you have, the smartphones voice commands may be listed under unique names such as Siri, S Voice, Google Voice, Amazon’s Alexa or Echo, Cortana, and so forth. T-Mobile does a good job explaining the different features and how to activate them on the Samsung S Voice.
# 14 Wi-Fi Icon
For those that may not know, Wi-Fi is not an acronym, but the name of a wireless internet system.
The symbol used for Wi-Fi looks like a dot with three curved lines expanding in length to form an equilateral triangle with lines. This is to illustrate frequency waves which our internet is connecting through. It looks something like this.
# 15 The Bluetooth Icon
This is an odd symbol and looks almost like a calligraphy B. Consumers will see this on any Bluetooth device or in your icon options to connect for your smartphone. This allows you to pair devices to your phone, and will give you the option to have your device be seen by others or not. This just means you can be private so no one else can connect to your phone.
# 16 The NFC Icon
Some readers will be familiar with what NFC is, while others may not be. Read more on this from my previous article. NFC is a chip inside your smartphone that reads information embedded amongst other items such as menus, other smartphones, card readers, and so forth. It looks like a rectangular box with a capital N in the middle of it.
# 17 The Pin or Location Icon
One of the most commonly used symbols is the little bubble that almost looks like a pointed light bulb. It is the universal symbol to illustrate where you are on a map. Yes this may seem obvious, but some people will see this in their smartphone and wonder what it is. It simply let’s you know your GPS is activated for specific apps or maps to help give you information about the surrounding area, including travel times and directions.
# 18 The Cyclic Arrows or Sync Icon
This may be a confusing symbol, or at least a difficult one to decide. This circle which is split in two by arrows pointing in opposite directions, is a symbol for your device syncing. Well what is syncing? Simply put, syncing a device can mean a variety of things, including refreshing your email list, backing up your contacts to your email, or your photos to your cloud service. You can even sync your personal music from home to play on your smartphone using services such as iTunes, Google Music, or Windows Media which no longer works on Windows 10. The website “tech terms”, does a great job breaking down what sync is.
# 19 The Outlined Person or Contact Icon
We all know what the outline of a person looks like. The outline of a head and shoulders for a person is a clear representation of a person, or a Contact of yours in your phone. I think the reason they use this image to represent a contact is pretty self explanatory.It can also be seen with multiple images of the outline of people to represent “Groups” you have saved your contacts under.
# 20 The Airplane or Airplane Mode Icon
Maybe you’ve noticed this symbol at the top of your phone or in your notification bar or settings. If you’ve owned any type of smartphone, from a Blackberry to an iPhone, you have probably seen this symbol. I remember before it was this common and I had to explain to an airline flight attendant that my phone was in “airplane mode” which meant it was safe to leave on during take off. This icon turns this feature on where your smartphone no longer receives radio frequency transmissions, or rather, cellular service..
Social Media websites are the most popular apps to have on your smartphone. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and so on. Each one of these Social Media Sites have their own unique icon. Facebook for example has the big white F with a blue background. Twitter has either a capital T with a blue background, or a white bird behind a blue background, which represents “tweets”. Tumblr has a lower case t behind a blue background, and LinkedIn has the capital the letters “in” with a blue background.
Blue seems to be the popular background color for social media icons. From social media, to different apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, and DropBox all
have their own unique symbol or icon that represents their app. Developers keep using familiar associative images to help recognize their apps or options. Hopefully this has helped you with understanding them a bit more.