An earcon is a brief, distinctive sound that represents a specific event or conveys other information. Earcons are a common feature of computer operating systems and applications, ranging from a simple beep to indicate an error, to the customizable sound schemes of modern operating systems that indicate startup, shutdown, and other events.
The name is a pun on the more familiar term icon in computer interfaces. Icon sounds like "eye-con" and is visual, which inspired D.A. Sumikawa to coin "earcon" as the auditory equivalent in a 1985 article, 'Guidelines for the integration of audio cues into computer user interfaces.'
The term is most commonly applied to sound cues in a computer interface, but examples of the concept occur in broadcast media such as radio and television:
- The alert signal that indicates a message from the Emergency Broadcast System
- The signature three-tone melody that identifies NBC in radio and television broadcasts
Earcons are generally synthesized tones or sound patterns. The similar term auditory icon refers to recorded everyday sounds that serve the same purpose.
- Thurrott, Paul (2009-03-08). "Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows: Windows 7 Build 7048 Notes". Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows. Archived from the original on 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
- Sumikawa, D.A. (1985). "Guidelines for the integration of audio cues into computer user interfaces". Retrieved 28 March 2011.
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