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Apple Reveals Extraordinary Multifunctional 3D Widgets

1 - Cover 
A week ago today, a new patent of Apple's surfaced detailing a future OS X 3D feature relating to ambient light. In today's published patent, Apple takes their future OS dashboard into hyper-drive with 3D widgets. These next generation 3D widgets will actually provide different features, attributes and/or distinct functionality depending on which side of the widget you click on. The user will be able to lift and rotate the widgets to expose these various functions and could be an extraordinary tool that will save you time and useless repetitiveness. With Google running scared of Apple's possible next moves and/or ramp-up into 3D variations of OS X and iPhone OS, they just acquired BumpTop on May 2, 2010. Here's a video of it if you've never heard of BumpTop before. The question becomes, what does Google know about Apple's 3D operating systems that have them on the run?

Patent Background

A hallmark of modern graphical user interfaces is that they allow a large number of graphical objects or items to be displayed on a display screen at the same time. Leading personal computer operating systems, such as Apple Mac OS provide user interfaces in which a number of windows can be displayed, overlapped, resized, moved, configured, and reformatted according to the needs of the user or application. Taskbars, menus, virtual buttons and other user interface elements provide mechanisms for accessing and activating windows even when they are hidden behind other windows.

Although users appreciate interfaces that can present information on a screen via multiple windows, the result can be overwhelming. For example, users may find it difficult to navigate to a particular user interface element or to locate a desired element among a large number of onscreen elements. The problem is further compounded when user interfaces allow users to position elements in a desired arrangement, including overlapping, minimizing, maximizing, and the like. Although such flexibility may be useful to the user, it can result in a cluttered display screen. Having too many elements displayed on the screen can lead to "information overload," thus inhibiting the user to efficiently use the computer equipment.

Many of the deficiencies of conventional user interfaces can be reduced using "widgets." Generally, widgets are user interface elements that include information and one or more tools (e.g., applications) that let the user perform common tasks and provide fast access to information. Widgets can perform a variety of tasks, including without limitation, communicating with a remote server to provide information to the user (e.g., weather report), providing commonly needed functionality (e.g., a calculator), or acting as an information repository (e.g., a notebook). Widgets can be displayed and accessed through a user interface, such as a "dashboard layer," which is also referred to as a "dashboard."

Due to the large number of widgets available to a user, a virtual desktop or dashboard can become cluttered and disorganized, making it difficult for the user to quickly locate and access a widget. Furthermore, each widget may be able to perform a number of different functions, and to access these functions the user must engage an interaction model of the widget, that may require several user selections and user commands, which can become repetitive and degrade the user experience.

Apple's Solution

In general, one aspect of the subject matter described in this specification could be embodied in methods that include defining a viewing surface; modeling a depth axis extending from the viewing surface; generating a plurality of three-dimensional widgets disposed along the depth axis, each three dimensional widget being a three-dimensional representation of an object and having a plurality of application surfaces; and for each three-dimensional widget having a plurality of widget functions, associate the widget functions with corresponding application surfaces. Other embodiments of this aspect include corresponding systems, apparatus, and computer program products.

Another aspect of the subject matter described in this specification could be embodied in methods that include defining a viewing surface; defining a back surface disposed from the viewing surface along a depth axis; and generating a widget receptacle disposed along the depth axis, the widget receptacle and having a plurality of receptacle surfaces, each receptacle surface being associated with a widget and being actuated by a selection of the receptacle surface, and upon such actuation causing an instantiation of the widget associated with the receptacle surface. Other embodiments of this aspect include corresponding systems, apparatus, and computer program products.

Three-Dimensional Widget Manipulation and Function

Apple's patent FIG. 4D is really the heart of this patent. FIG. 4D shown below is a screen shot depicting an example display of three-dimensional widgets in a dashboard. Four widgets 420, 422, 424 and 426 are displayed. Each of the three-dimensional widgets is a three-dimensional representation of an object (e.g., a three-dimensional polyhedron). As initially displayed, the widgets 420, 422, 424 and 426 are rendered from a central perspective and positioned along the depth axis. Each of the widgets 420, 422, 424 and 426 has application surfaces that are associated with a widget function of the three-dimensional widget.



Each widget could be selected by the user's cursor and rotated and/or moved in the three modeled dimensions. Various interaction models could be used to manipulate the widgets. For example, mousing over a widget and holding down a right click button when the cursor is on an application surface could allow the user to select the widget to position the widget in the x and y-dimensions, while holding down a left click button can allow the user to position the widget along the z-axis. To rotate a widget, the user can mouse over a cursor and use a mouse wheel, which imparts a rotation about an axis defined by the position of the cursor relative to a centroid of the rendered object represented by the widget (also see 3D remote patent).

Double clicking on an application surface could instantiate a widget to realize a corresponding widget function associated with the application surface. For example, widget 420 has three application surfaces 420A-420C shown, and the widget could be rotated to show the remaining three application surfaces. The widget 420 may thus have up to six functions associated with the six application surfaces.

The functions associated with each application surface could be selected by the user, or could be predetermined. For example, if the widget 420 is a stock widget, the application surface 420A could implement the function of showing "Industrial Averages" for several markets. Each remaining application surface could provide the function of stock quotes and technicals (price to earnings ratio, volume, etc.) of a stock specified by a user.

In some implementations, the three-dimensional widget could change polyhedron types to provide more application surfaces as more functions are specified by a user. For example, a three-dimensional widget with four or fewer functions can be of the form of a tetrahedron; a three-dimensional widget with five or six functions can be of the form of a hexahedron; a three-dimensional widget with seven or eight functions can be of the form of a octahedron; and a three-dimensional widget with nine functions can be of the form of a dodecahedron. Thus, if a user specifies ten stock tickers for quotes and technicals, the widget 420 could expand from a hexahedron to a dodecahedron (See screenshots below).

The multidimensional functionality per application could be mind-boggling and apparently we'll be given the means to define many of these functions. What a great idea.

Various Screenshots


Apple credits John Louch and Imran Chaudhri as the inventors of patent application 20100115471, originally filed in Q4 2009 or about six months ago.

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