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The origin of iPhone camera sound is found in this 40-year-old Canon

In our daily lives we use a multitude of everyday objects that we never ask ourselves questions about. Some of them have more history than we think, even those that are relatively recent, like the iPhone. One aspect of this device goes back forty years. It is the sound it makes when we take a photo with the iPhone , its origin is in an analog SLR camera.

Canon AE-1 and the iPhone camera sound source

By playing the top clip you immediately identify it as the sound your iPhone makes when you take a photo. Actually, older photographers will say it’s the sound an analog camera makes. Specifically, it is the sound that a Canon AE-1 produces when it takes a picture.

The origin of iPhone camera sound is found in this 40-year-old Canon
The origin of iPhone camera sound is found in this 40-year-old Canon

This Japanese camera makes a noise formed by a very complex combination of internal movements. It involves an electric motor that moves the photographic film, different gears and the shutter itself . Canon manufactured this model of interchangeable lenses from 1976 to 1984.

An Apple employee named Jim Reekes had bought this camera in his senior year of high school. He’d been using it ever since as a personal camera. In 1988 he joined Apple as a software engineer, where he became the sound manager in 1990 . It was then that he digitized the sound of his camera to use it as an effect when taking a screenshot in System 7.6, the operating system of Apple computers at that time.

This sound has endured over time, outpacing Mac OS X, OS X and now macOS. In 2007 it made the leap to the iPhone, a sound that has remained unchanged. The iPad also has it since 2010 and even the Apple Watch makes this noise when taking a screenshot.

Skeumorphism is also in the sound

Someone who has been using an iPhone for some time will remember this story as a kind of skeumorphism. The skeumorphism in technology aims to make devices more accessible by making their interfaces similar to real objects. The idea is that if something digital resembles something else I use on a daily basis, I will be able to use it with less effort.

At AppleDesigning the sound: the Apple Watch “ding” was created by hitting the steel model with a hammer

In the case of Apple, we have been able to see the influence of this trend for many versions of iOS. One example was the calendar, which resembled a real one with its leather on top and paper granule. Perhaps the most infamous example of skeumorphism is that of Game Center, which showed a green mat and edges similar to those of a card table.

Apple shed much of the skeumorphism in its operating systems in 2013 with the release of iOS 7. And the following year, OS X Yosemite would move to the flatter design of iOS 7 on the Mac. Although Apple has since left much of the skeumorphism behind, there are still “leftovers” that can be found in their operating systems. One that you probably use often is the background of the sheets in the Notes app.


Without a doubt, the sound that Apple devices make when taking a photo or capture, is another type of skeumorphism. One that is still used today , as shown by the sound produced when receiving an iMessage message and that was created from the chassis of a steel Apple Watch.


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