Apple Wins Patents for RF Synchronization, Time Machine & More
Apple Develops a New iPad Material Using a 3D Knitting Process

Apple's Forthcoming Spiral's Interface to Replace Cover Flow

1 - Cover - Spiral UI to replace Cover Flow - patent 
In September of this year Apple introduced us to a new Spiral based iTunes UI and provided us with a nice overview. Today, Apple opens the gate wide open and shows us that the new Spiral interface is to replace their current Cover Flow in iTunes. The new design will work with both standard and Multi-Touch displays and is likely earmarked for OS X Lion due out next summer. The new user interface will look really cool on Apple's iPad for the latter half of 2011. Major Update Dec. 17, 2010 2:35 PM:  We've just added a Spiral's-like demo to our report that works nicely with Photos. You just might want to check it out!   




Even as computer processors are becoming faster and programs more capable, space on computer displays continues to be limited. As programs become more complex there is a need to display more information in the same limited space.


Displaying additional information is not the only challenge; program application developers are also challenged to present information in a visually appealing and easily useable way. Lists and icons have long been key elements in achieving these objectives, but while they represent simple ways to present information, they're not sufficiently appealing to consumers and fail to convey enough information to a user.


To solve this problem, new graphical user interfaces have been created which show lists with much larger icons – like Apple's current Cover Flow. The icons are sufficiently large so that they are easy to see and they successfully convey detailed information about the individual file, but the list as a whole displays less information. The interface allows a user to see detailed information about a selected file and some information about one to two files before and after the selected file. It does not display much, if any information about the other files in the list. Accordingly a method for displaying a list with a large number of icons of a sufficient size to be capable of conveying detailed information about each file and the list as a whole is needed.


Apple's Solution


Apple's patent describes methods and arrangements for manipulating a playlist by providing a graphical user interface in the form of a receding spiral made up of a collection of icons representing media items in the playlist having an icon in the center of the spiral representing the entire playlist. By way of selecting and dragging a representation of a media item or playlist into the center of the receding spiral, a new receding spiral based on the media item or playlist currently in the center of the spiral is created and displayed.


The new receding spiral could be generated based on a playlist created using similarity data related to the new media item in the center of the spiral, whereby the media items in the playlist are considered similar to the new media item. Alternatively, the new playlist could already be associated with the representation that was dragged into the center of the spiral.


In some embodiments, the representation of a media item that is dragged into the center of the spiral originates from outside the spiral. In such embodiments the representation could originate within a file or music management application – Such as iTunes. The representation could also originate from within a file directory.


The icons representing the media items in the playlist could be derived from album art or they could be generic icons. In some embodiments the representation in the center of the spiral could also be derived from album art from which the list is derived using similarity data. In some embodiments the representation in the center of the spiral could be an icon representing the playlist, which could be generic or assigned by a user.


In some embodiments a method for manipulating a playlist includes providing a graphical user interface in the form of a receding spiral made up of a collection of icons representing media items in the playlist. Further, an icon could be provided in the center of the spiral, which could represent the entire playlist. The graphical user interface could receive inputs representative of a selection and movement of least one of the icons representing media items in the playlist, and can rearrange the playlist according to the new position of at least one of the icons and responsively updating the graphical user interface.


2BB - Apple patents the Spiral UI to replace Cover Flow - dec 2010 

Apple's patent FIG. 3 illustrates one example of a graphical user interface. An ordered list is displayed as a receding spiral in a virtual 3-D space. Each item has a position on the screen as represented by X, Y and Z Cartesian coordinates. In general, in this embodiment, icons that appear larger, have a lower value on the Z-axis, are more proximate to the currently active file 310. An "active file" could be a file that is presently opened or in use, but in some embodiments it could simply be a file that is selected by the user.


Icon 330 could be a song, data or other media file from which a playlist is generated automatically. One example of similarity data is known as GENIUS and is part of Apple Inc.'s media management software iTunes.


3 - Apple's spiral UI on touch display - patent 2010 

Apple's patent FIG. 11 illustrates a touch input embodiment while FIGS. 17 and 19 illustrate the user rearranging objects on a touch display (though it could also technically work in concert with a mouse).


Apple Reserves Alternate Designs


As you could see below, Apple is also reserving a "receding V" design. This could be used in the Finder for file searches and viewing documents. It's less drastic than the spiral design and would likely be more appealing to the business user. Additionally,  the patent presents us with one last interface design, though it's very much like the one used in "Time Machine." I think that such a design would somewhat contradict the very principles associated with the Spiral or receding V designs. It would simply be too restrictive and not much better than what we have today with Cover Flow.  


4 - Alternative Views with Receding V - Apple patent dec 2010 

In FIG. 15 we see that the designs, be it the spiral or v-shape is being designed to work with Multi-Touch displays. Apple's patent points to both handhelds (iOS devices) and the desktop (iMac/Mac Pro) though I'm sure it extends to the MacBook as well. The user in FIG. 15 is definitely using their hand and not a magic trackpad or mouse - though technically, a mouse could perform these tasks.


Apple credits Michael Neuman and William Bachman as the inventors of patent applications 20100318908 and 20100318928, originally filed in Q2 2009.


At the End of the Day


At the end of the day, I think that both the sprial and receding-v designs have their place. The receding-v design would appear to be a natural for replacing Cover Flow in Apple's Finder. It's not overly drastic and would provide us with a superior viewing angle, which is the purpose for the change to begin with. Apple's proposed Spiral design is more geared for iTunes. Apple could simply make it another viewing option or replace Cover Flow. It appears to be geared for a touch display like the iPad where it's better suited. It would provide more room to maneuver than an iPhone. So it'll be interesting to see how Apple introduces these new UI elements in the future.  


Update Demo Dec. 17, 2010. 2:30 PM: In the meantime, you may want to check out this demo. Wow! Just be patient as it loads.


1X - Life Memory - Demo - Spirals UI with iPhoto - Dec 2010 

Above is a screenshot of the Memory Life Spirals UI.  When you run the link to the demo, note that there's slider bar above the Spirals Blue icon. Slide it slowly right and watch the Spiral in action. Just let go and the photos stop spiraling. Is that cool and fast, or what! Now that I've seen it, I want it! Though for now you could only get it at Memory Life. I have no idea how Apple will work around this working app, but our friends at Memory Life just might be getting a phone call from the Big Man in Cupertino (ha!). My thanks to Fabien Voyer from "Memory Life" for the heads up on their app which will be available in English in January.


A Scene from "The Tree of Life" - 2011 Summer Movie 


The Spiral - in the - Tree of Life - Movie - Due Summer 2011 

This scene was taken from the 2011 Summer movie called The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It appears at the 1:39 mark of their movie trailer (Fox Searchlight or Apple Movie Trailer). Hmm, it's starting to add up like an X File (Ha!). 


Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today


Apple's patent 20100313409 covers the iPod's switch to a concaved all-metal scrollwheel button. Although originally designed for the iPod, Apple makes it clear that such a button could be used in future devices such "video games, radios, MP3 players, CD players, DVD players, televisions, game players, cameras" or even miniature electronic devices such as "watches, rings, necklaces, belts, accessories for belts, headsets, accessories for shoes, virtual reality devices, other wearable electronics, accessories for sporting equipment, accessories for fitness equipment, or combinations thereof.


5 - Apple patent, all metal concave button - dec 2010 

Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


Community Sites Covering our Original Report


Macsurfer, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, TechWatching, MacDailyNews, iPodTouchFans, iPhoneclub Netherlands, MacStories, Ispazio Italy, TUAW, Macgasm, iPadevice Italy, Ubergizmo, Blancer, iPhone Konig Germany, Melablog Italy, iPhone Download Blog, RazorianFly, Applesfera Spain, OS X Daily, and more. 




This looks really cool, I hope it makes an appearance in both iOS and Mac OS X Lion.

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