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Apple exploring graphics-driven iPhone menu interfaces for contacts, music

Selecting contacts or music on an iPhone in the future could rely less on scrolling through plain black-and-white text and instead could feature more visually appealing graphical elements and support for multi-touch gestures.

Apple's interest in spicing up the iOS mobile operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch was revealed this week in a patent application made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The filing, entitled "Segmented Graphical Representations for Recommending Elements" and discovered by AppleInsider, describes a more engaging way of browsing content and scrolling through a list on a mobile device.

The application notes that today's portable devices, like the iPhone, have large storage capacities to hold huge amounts of music and other data. In addition, many users have hundreds of contacts stored on their handset.

"Current portable electronic devices, however, are limited in their ability to present information to users," the application reads. "For example, portable electronic devices commonly have limited interfaces for presenting users' music collections or for recommending songs for purchase. These electronic devices may display music collections or recommendations using textual lists of songs."

Apple's solution relies on "segmented graphical representations of elements," or content on an iPhone. It notes that a new graphical interface could be used to present users with songs or address book contacts.

In one example, contacts could be presented with provided pictures of people, represented with a number of tiles on the screen. Contacts or music could also be shown with a dynamically generated mosaic, collecting a number of associated pictures.

Graphics could be created on an iOS device using a "seed element," such as a song currently playing or the individual that the user is currently on a telephone call with.

With respect to contacts, Apple states that the proposed invention could make it easier for users to sort through people in their address book. For example, contacts who work for the same company could automatically be grouped together and represented by the same image — perhaps the company's logo.

"Unlike an alphabetically organized address book, this interface may allow [the] electronic device... to provide an address book that is intuitive to the user, and may enable a user to quickly call a number of users from the same contact group in succession," the application reads.

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The filing also notes that this new graphical interface could be enhanced through the use of multi-touch gestures on the iPhone. For example, a user could "pinch in" with two fingers on a piece of onscreen album artwork to select it, while the reverse "pinch out" gesture would navigate backward to the previous menu.

The proposed invention, made public this week by the USPTO, was first filed in September of 2009. It is credited to Taido Nakajima and Pareet Rahul.