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Apple Provides us with a Peek at Spirals, a new iTunes UI Feature

1 - Cover - Spirals 
It's no secret that Steve Jobs has had a serious cube fetish over the years. So he's decided to shake things up a bit this year and shift his passion to all things spiral and/or cylindrical. A case in point would be his finger in the design of their latest awe-inspiring Apple Store in Shanghai China which is an incredible forty-foot high glass cylinder structure. The inspiration for all things spiral has evidently spilled over to one of Apple's software teams who have come up with an all new music menu feature that could be coming to a future iteration of the iTunes UI. The new spiral-centric menu option is a radical shift from a textual list-based menu that has been standard on iPods from the very beginning. Then again, Apple appears to have a radical mindset of late.


Patent Background


If you're an iTunes lover, then you probably have a very large library of music that you enjoy and you probably, like most of us, enjoy multiple styles of music which is broken down today into "Genres." Our libraries, for the most part, are limited in their ability to present song options and menus to us. The most common approach used – is a textual list-based menu that allows us to view all of our songs stored on our iPods or iPhones. It's functional but it's getting old. So Apple is considering a shift in design – though from what I could tell, it'll remain optional if you're averse to change. That's okay too.


A Peek into the Future

Apple's patent refers to electronic device 100 as being a portable media player (e.g., an iPod), a cellular telephone (e.g., an iPhone), pocket-sized personal computers, a personal digital assistance (PDA), a desktop and/or laptop computer. Yet for the sake of clarity, we'll simply call device 100 described in the patent as either an iPod or iPhone going forward so as to better help you visualize what the patent is describing.


Apple's patent FIGS. 2-4 provide an example of a new graphical music menu that displays music in three levels of detail, where the three levels are associated with the genre, artist, and album attributes, respectively.


New Ways to View your Music on an iOS Device


An iPhone could provide a graphical representation of music in any suitable form. In some embodiments, and as shown in FIGS. 2-4 below, the iPhone could provide a spiral-based graphical representation (or "spiral representation"). In other embodiments, and as shown in FIG. 5, the iPhone could provide a helix-based graphical representation (or "helical representation"). In still other embodiments, and as shown in FIG. 6, the iPhone could provide a map-based graphical representation (or "map representation").


It should be understood that the patent figures shown below are merely illustrative. In fact, the graphical representations could be based on other two or three-dimensional shapes, curves, waves, zigzags or even a grid which could be angled in any direction on the display screen and have any suitable depth without departing from the scope of the invention.


Apple's patent FIG. 2 is representative of an iPhone displaying an illustrative spiral representation 200 in response to a user request to view information about music, such as stored music. The spiral representation could include spiral 220 which could include a curve that circles around a central point and appears to move closer to the user as the curve circles away from the central point. The iPhone could display graphics (including graphic 240) along the spiral. The graphics displayed at a greater radius from the central point may be larger than those closer to the central point to further provide the illusion of depth.


The First Level of Detail


The graphics displayed along the spiral could represent the music at a first level of detail. The first level of detail could be associated with one attribute type (e.g., genre), and each of the graphics could represent the music associated with a particular attribute of that attribute type. Graphic 240, for example, could represent some or all of the hip-hop music stored on an iPhone. The graphics of the genres could be displayed in any suitable order such as alphabetical order. The iPhone may display similar genres next to each other because some tunes may be classified as both rock and pop.


 2 - The Spiral Representation 


Each graphic displayed along the spiral could include pictures, graphics, text, or a combination thereof, and could take on any suitable shape (e.g., a square, rectangle, ball, circle, triangle, or diamond). For example, each graphic could include album cover art representative of a particular genre. The spiral could visually distinguish between the different graphics or the different sections using, for example, different colors, sizes/widths, markers, or color gradients to fade between different colors.


In some embodiments, an iPhone could receive a clockwise or counterclockwise input as from a circular or elliptical motion received on a click wheel or on a touch screen, to change the presented music. Responsive to a clockwise input, the graphics could rotate in a clockwise direction along the spiral and could gradually increase in size. It should be noted that the only iPod left with a physical click wheel is the iPod Classic and so we may also have to now consider that the mention of a click wheel in this patent is also taking a "virtual" implementation into account.


Apple's patent goes on to describe that as graphic 240 moves counterclockwise, the "Hip-Hop" graphic will rotate into the position of where you see "Pop," then to the position noted as "Electronic" and then finally disappear from the spiral representation. Of course in reverse, the "Hip-Hop" graphic moves down into the spiral to where the "Jazz" graphic is and again disappear from the spiral representation.


An iPhone could interpret any suitable type of input as a request to view additional information such as using the familiar "pinch-in" motion as a request to view more detailed information.


Spiraling Down to a Second & Third Level of Detail


Apple's patent FIG. 3 is a spiral representation of the music which could be displayed on an iPhone when a user requests to view the music at a second level of detail. Spiral representation 300, including graphic 340, could be associated with particular artists. For example, graphic 340 may represent the music released by Artist B.


 3 - Second & Third Levels of Detail 


Apple's patent FIG. 4 is about the spiral representation 400 which may present the music at a third level of detail – which in this case includes graphic 440 representing the music from a particular album. Since each artist could release multiple albums, representing music by album may be more specific, and therefore more detailed, information about the music. In some embodiments, the graphic could include cover art for the associated album. In some embodiments, spiral representation 400 could be only an intermediate level, and an iPhone could continue to receive user requests to view more detailed information about the music (e.g., by song name).


Variant Representations: Helix and Map


Apples patent introduces us to variant representations known as the Helix and Map. Helical representation 500 could helix 520, which could coil from one edge of a display screen to the opposite edge (e.g., the bottom edge) of the display screen. The Helical representation appears to follow the same principles as the Spiral but is simply seen from a side view, if you will, as opposed to a top view looking down into a spiral.


4 - Variant Representations - the helix and Map 


In Apples patent FIG. 6 we see the Map representation of music. In this view the user will be using flicker actions to move across a map of music broken down into States or Provinces depending on the country you live in. It sound hokey but in a way it could be fast to hit Tennessee to check out your country tunes or the hit New York for opera or Missouri to hear Blues or Louisiana for Jazz or Cajun and California for Rock etc. It's different than a list of genres that we're used to today and until we actually see it in action, it's hard to judge its value.


Apple credits Taido Nakajima; Taido, Pareet Rahul, Gloria Lin as the inventors of patent application 20100229088, originally filed in Q1 2009. Apple's spiral feature may be a part of their patent pending 3D GUI - which was partly fulfilled this year with the introduction of FaceTime (then iChat) on the iPhone 4 and the recent iPod touch upgrade.


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I wonder if Apple has plans to use the spiral elsewhere, as this appears to be a little esoteric.

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