On July 19, 2012, the US Patent & Trademark Office published two patent applications from Apple that reveal coming tweaks to OS X and possibly iOS. The first patent covers changes coming to the OS X Finder while the other patent is a little more ambitious. We find Apple introducing us to "virtual boundaries" associated with an upgrade to the docking system that will accommodate multiple docks for apps, operating system components and more. It's also believed that the Finder tweaks found in today's patent may actually be associated with Apple's upcoming OS X Mountain Lion.
Apple's Patent Background
Modern graphical user interfaces present graphical objects or items displayed on a screen to allow users to interact with various applications. Leading personal computer operating systems, such as Apple Mac OS provide user interfaces in which a dock is displayed in the user interface for access to applications and system resources. The dock could be any graphical object, such as a taskbar, menu, virtual button or other user interface element that allows a user to link to applications by viewing and selecting icons representing the applications. In addition to application icons, the dock could also include other graphical items that provide information or resources to a user, such as visual indicators of the status of various system components or other visual elements associated with different applications.
In some instances, the dock could be hidden from view when the user does not need access to items in the dock. For example, the user may not need access to the dock when the user interacts with an application or when a particular application is running in full-screen mode. In some implementations, the dock could be automatically hidden from view when the operating system determines that the user does not need to access the dock, such as after a certain amount of time has elapsed since the user's previous selection of an item in the dock. The hiding of the dock could also be performed in response to the user's movement of a visual cursor or pointer, such as automatically hiding the dock after a pointer is moved away from the dock for a certain amount of time. As the pointer is moved back within the region of the user interface previously occupied by the dock, the dock could be automatically presented again to allow the user to interact with the dock.
In certain instances, the hidden dock could reappear in the user interface even when a user does not need access to the dock. For example, if the dock is configured to reappear in the user interface when a pointer moves within the vicinity of the region previously occupied by the dock, the dock may reappear when the user is trying to access the region for a purpose other than retrieving an item from the dock. In some implementations, the dock could be located at an edge of the visible area of the user interface, such as at the bottom or side edge of a screen. When the dock is automatically hidden from view, the edge of the screen could be occupied by other graphical elements, such as portions of a window or application. The user may try to access the graphical elements at the edge of the screen after the dock is hidden from view, but may be hindered after the dock reappears in the user interface when the user-controlled pointer moves within the region. In other words, hidden objects such as the dock could be triggered to appear in a user interface even when reappearance of the hidden object is undesirable to the user.
Apple Introduces Layered Docks & Virtual Boundaries
In a first general aspect, Apple's invention relates to a method for displaying an indicator of hidden objects in response to user input. An input for moving a pointer presented in a user interface toward a first virtual boundary is received. The movement of the pointer toward the first virtual boundary is generated for display. An action is triggered in response to receiving input for movement of the pointer across the first virtual boundary after the pointer crosses the first virtual boundary. An object is generated for display in the user interface in response to receiving input for movement of the pointer across a second virtual boundary.
Apple's patent FIG. 2D illustrates an exemplary user interface showing display of a second layer of the dock in response to a pointer crossing a third virtual boundary. Patent FIGS. 3A and 3B illustrate an exemplary user interface showing toggling of different docks in response to user input.
According to Apple, the use of virtual boundaries could be extended to include additional features for presenting objects in the user interface. Apple's patent FIG. 2D illustrates an example screenshot of an additional action triggered by the pointer 112 crossing a third virtual boundary 274.
In some implementations, multiple instances or layers of the dock 150 could be presented in the user interface. For example, a second layer 152 of the dock could be generated for display above the dock 150, allowing additional icons (134, 136, 138 and 140) to be presented to the user for further navigation.
In the present example, the second layer remains hidden until the user moves their pointer across a third virtual boundary 274. In some instances, the third virtual boundary could also be located outside of the visible area of the user interface, and the user may need to enter an input to "move" their pointer off the screen a certain distance before crossing the third virtual boundary even though movement of the pointer is no longer displayed in the user interface.
Further, although FIG. 2D illustrates two layers of docks and a number of virtual boundaries for triggering display of the layers, additional virtual boundaries could be used to trigger displays of more than two dock layers. In some implementations, different docks associated with different applications or operating systems could be displayed in a layered format as depicted in FIG. 2D. For example, an application-specific dock could be displayed in the top layer while an operating system dock could be displayed in the bottom layer in response to movement of the pointer across different virtual boundaries.
Exemplary Actions for Toggling Between Hidden Objects
Apple's patent FIGS. 3A and B above depict example actions for triggering indicators for switching between hidden objects. As described above in connection with FIG. 1, the triggering of different actions associated with hidden objects based on a pointer 112 crossing a virtual boundary could be applied in different scenarios. For example, a virtual boundary could be used to trigger toggling between different graphical objects.
Specifically, Apple's patent FIG. 3A illustrates an example screenshot of an application-specific dock 350 presented in a user interface. As seen in FIG. 3A, the first dock 350 is a dock with icons 334, 336, 338, and 340. In some implementations, an application could be associated with its own dock, toolbar, or menus independent of the dock associated with the operating system. For example, an application that is currently running could generate for display a specific dock with shortcuts to features, windows, and other functionality specific to the application. The dock associated with the application could be different than a dock associated with the operating system that presents icons representing different applications.
Operating System Dock
Apple's patent FIG. 3B illustrates an example screenshot of an operating system dock 150 presented in a user interface while the application-specific dock 350 of an open application 360 is hidden from view. As FIG. 3B illustrates, the user could toggle between two different docks based on the user's actions with respect to the pointer and virtual boundaries defined in the user interface. A number of different user actions for toggling between docks are within the scope of the present invention.
Apple states that as your mouse moves into the region below a virtual boundary the visual depiction of the mouse could be altered to simulate different effects. For example, as the mouse moves across the virtual boundary, the animation of the pointer could include simulating the movement of the pointer over a virtual object, similar to a "speed bump." In this instance, the visual image of the pointer could be magnified temporarily and then de-magnified as the pointer crosses the virtual boundary.
Although the system definitely applies to OS X, the patent also describes one of the exemplary architectures to include features associated with Apple's iPad LTE and/or iPhone. Specifically, the patent points to "phone-related processes and functions." It could be a part of a future cellular MacBook or simply that Apple will apply multiple docks to both iOS and OS X.
Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q2 2011 by inventors John Louch and Alessandro Sabatelli and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office. A secondary patent associated with this one could be found under patent application 20120185789 titled "Target Region for Removing Icons from the Dock."
Apple Tweaking the Finder
In a secondary Patent Application published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office titled "Information Management with Non-Hierarchical Views" we see that Apple is thinking of tweaking the OS X Finder.
Apple's Patent Abstract states that "Information items in a file system are arranged into groups that are created according to a grouping component. A non-hierarchical view displays visual representations (e.g., icons, thumbnail images) of the information items arranged in visually delineated groups according to an arrange type that can be specified for each group. Various view formats are available including icon, list and column view formats. In each view format, a condensed mode can be selected for one or more groups, resulting in multiple visual representations of items being displayed in a fixed amount of screen space in the non-hierarchical view. In icon view, each condensed group includes a single row of visual representations that can be navigated separately from other groups in the non-hierarchical view."
Apple's patent FIG. 1A illustrates an exemplary non-hierarchical, icon view of visual representations of user-oriented information items on a computer system display. Apple's latest patent may in fact be a part of OS X Mountain Lion. See "Find, organize, and share files fast" on Apple's website.
Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q1 2012 by inventors David Hart, Laurent Baumann, Patrick Coffman, Aram Kudurshian and Kevin Tiene. For those wanting to dig into this patent a little further, see patent application 20120185800.
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