Under The Microscope

Rogue Amoeba’s Decades in Your Dock

Exactly 21 years ago today, Rogue Amoeba shipped its very first product: Audio Hijack 1.0. In a small nod to our birthday, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at our app icons over the years. Below, I’ve lined up the icons for all the Mac apps Rogue Amoeba has sold since the beginning:

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As you can see, our icons have changed quite a bit over two decades. This is due in part to shifts in broad design trends on the Mac, which we follow to some degree. It also reflects the reality of Rogue Amoeba having multiple designers over time. My own tenure here began in 2015, and several talented designers did icon work before me.

Early Rogue Amoeba icons, like Audio Hijack’s original audio thief and Nicecast’s satellite dish, were very detailed. This was a response to the then-massive 128×128 pixel canvas size of Mac OS X, which represented a huge size increase from the previous 32×32 icon size. Icons have recently grown even larger, up to 1024 pixels square on Retina screens. The original Macintosh’s entire screen was only 512×342, which means it couldn’t show even a quarter of a modern-day icon (and it would be in black and white to boot).

Check out this comparison of app icon sizes in 1984, 2002, and present day:

Over time, the excitement of being able to make photorealistic icons wore off, and Apple toned down their skeuomorphism. This led us to shift our icons to simpler shapes, which often include bolder colours.

Apple’s 2020 decision to switch the MacOS app icon standard to an iPhone-esque squircle shape also led to major changes. I’ve previously bemoaned the recent loss of distinct icon shapes, and Rogue Amoeba hasn’t followed Apple’s change rigidly. That said, we don’t want to clash with other app icons. We’ve updated many of our icon designs to fit in well on the Mac, while still maintaining some individuality.

In a way, this above image is more than just a timeline of icons, it’s a timeline of the apps themselves. Early on in Rogue Amoeba’s existence, there was a fair amount of churn in the product line. More recent years have been a lot more stable. I think this is a product of both our maturity as a company and of the Mac platform as a whole.

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