Apple investigating flick, pour to send 'physics metaphor' gestures for iOS

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A recently uncovered Apple patent filing shows the company has looked into using more advanced "physics metaphors" in a mulitouch environment to replace the traditional virtual desktop.

Apple's filing, which was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, centers around using "intuitive, physical gestures" that resemble real world physical actions to communicate between devices, send files and broadcast to a network.

The invention sets out to solve an interface issue with modern applications for smartphones and tablets. According to the filing, some modern smartphone applications have discarded the desktop metaphor without finding substitute real world physical actions that provide the same level of intuitive controls. T application specifically addresses at length the issue of file storage and transfer.

Apple has been reluctant to add a fully developed method for easily storing and transferring files between iOS devices. Though some third-party applications have attempted to solve the issue, iOS lacks system-wide processes for sharing files.

Although, iOS 5's tight integration with the iCloud service could make progress when it arrives this fall. Apple plans to provide iCloud storage APIs that will allow applications to sync documents across devices.

Particular embodiments of the invention include physical metaphors such as pouring objects from one container to another, flicking files onto another device and sand flowing through an hour glass. Audible feedback, such as "the sound of liquid pouring, a tablet fizzing, gas through a valve, a sci-fi teleporter, or other sound that audibly represent the transfer of a material from one point to another" could enhance the metaphor.

The gestures in question could be configured to activate wireless communication protocols, including BlueTooth and Radio Frequency Identification, that would enable devices to interact.

In addition to multi-touch, the gestures rely heavily on motion sensors such as accelerometers gyroscopes and magnetometers. One example of the invention involves holding a mobile device over a tablet as file icons "pour" from one to the other. Apple describes the use of "gravity , friction or drag, momentums, torques, accelerations, centripetal forces or any other force found in a real-world physical environment" as cues to make the interface more intuitive.

Another example depicts a directional flick that would send drawn objects from a tablet to a smaller device. The angle of the flick would determine which device to send it to, in the case of multiple nearby devices.

Physical metaphor patent

Elements of the invention bear some resemblance to the AirDrop feature that Apple has built into Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. AirDrop is a drag and drop "ad hoc" networking feature that combines aspects of various networking protocols to simplify file transfers for users.

Apple filed the application on Jan. 5, 2010, just weeks before the unveiling of the original iPad. The invention is credited to Brett Bilbrey, Nicholas King and Todd Benjamin.

Last month, Apple was awarded a vital multitouch patent that was viewed as a "huge blow" to its rivals. Patent experts suggested the iPhone maker could use the patent to "bully" its competitors.