Apple continues to look at circular designs as better ways of using the limited screen space, especially on mobile devices. A few weeks ago we looked at a patent for "radial menus"
that would allow a user to use one finger - or mouse movement - to scroll and select items from a list. A new patent application published yesterday discusses a "receding spiral" GUI that would replace Cover Flow.
The new patent, User Interface for Media Playback
, notes that because of the size of the images, it's only possible to see "about one or two files before and after the selected file" in Cover Flow. To deal with this limitation, Apple would instead use a spiral in future OSes, for use with a mouse or other pointer device, or touch interface, or pen based contact pointer. The largest icon in the spiral is the currently playing track. Tracks ahead in the list are progressively smaller in size, receding into the virtual distance in a spiral. Apple had a similar patent out in September
describing a new way to control iTunes.
It's an interesting approach, if not immediately intuitive. The patent describes editing a playlist by having an icon in the center of the spiral representing the entire playlist. You would spin the spiral to find a track, then drag the icon to the center of the receding spiral. You could also use this interface to create a Genius playlist using similarity data related to the track you drag into the center of the spiral.
Obviously, this interface could be used to manage any list, much as the way Cover Flow can, theoretically
, be used in the Finder (though I've never seen anyone use it there). The patent also discusses a receding-V design, which would be similar to the spiral, but limited to selecting one item rather than adding items to a playlist or group.
Like the windows-icons-mouse-pointer (WIMP) interface first popularized by the Macintosh way, way back in 1984, circular and spiral menus aren't new. The mouse pointer was developed in 1963
, and radial menus appeared as early as 1969. But also like the graphical user interface, it will take a user-friendly implementation to make the radial and the spiral something we want to use. Apple won with the mouse, but pretty much failed with Cover Flow. Spirals will only take off if they're easier to use and more effective than what we're used to now.