Apple investigating new touch-based spiral Cover Flow for music selection

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Apple is exploring a new user interface for browsing music albums on a touch-based device, with a spiral-style take on Cover Flow done in 3D.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week unveiled a new patent application from Apple entitled "User Interface for Media Playback." Discovered by AppleInsider, it describes a graphical user interface used to display information about many items at once.

In the imagery that accompanies the application, the technology is shown as a new take on Apple's existing, patented Cover Flow user interface. Like Cover Flow, the new "spiral" layout is a 3D interface that allows users to quickly flip through album art to select an album.

However, unlike the current method, which moves horizontally, Apple's latest invention would have the album art move in a spiral form.

The patent application notes that icons are a good way to make a graphical user interface easy to use, but having icons that are too large takes up too much of the screen. It states that in the current Cover Flow method, the interface only allows users to see "about one or two files before and after the selected file."

"It does not display much, if any information about the other files in the list," it states. "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."

With Apple's new proposed method, a host of icons would be displayed on the screen in a spiral form. These individual album covers could, with a touch-based device, be chosen or moved about.

For example, using a spiral display for a playlist could have the album art for the currently playing song at the top, with songs to follow displayed subsequently, getting smaller as they go down the 3D spiral. Users could touch and drag album art to reorder songs that are to be played on the playlist.

"The embodiments described herein provide for a more efficient way of managing a digital list," the application reads. "Users can view and arrange a great number of items in a list. Further, users can create a new list using one drag operation."

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In addition to the spiral method, the application shows a few other options for sorting icons and album art, including a cascading style that could offer a glimpse at multiple upcoming songs in a playlist.

The patent application was first filed by Apple on June 11, 2009. The invention is credited to Michael Neuman and William Martin Bachman.