About a year ago Patently Apple posted a report titled "Intel, Haswell and Microsoft's 'Think Different' Moment." The thrust of the report was about Windows 8 and more specifically about the use of their tiles in what was once called the "Metro" User Interface. In our report we quoted one of Microsoft's keynote speakers talking about the difference between icons, such as those found on Apple's devices, versus tiles that will be dominating the new Windows 8 social side interface. The speaker stated that "Icons are yesterday's way of representing apps. They're antiquated, they're not alive, they're not interesting, they're not helpful, and they're just a picture and a line of text. And they were fine in the early GUI era, but in today's world they're antiquated." In one of Microsoft's latest patents, we're able to see some of their thinking behind pushing their tiled universe into the world of 3D cubes and rollable cylinders so as to make the best use of ever smaller device interfaces. I think that Microsoft's ideas are reasonable on this front, and in the end, I think that all mobile devices will eventually adopt live tiles or icons in the future.
Microsoft's Patent Background
Mobile devices have become ubiquitous in today's world and are capable of performing a wide variety of functions. The various functions of a mobile device are usually invoked or offered through applications stored on or accessed using the device. The number of applications available for use on a device is growing rapidly, making it increasingly difficult for a mobile device user to organize, launch, and use the various available applications quickly and easily. Furthermore, mobile devices continue to shrink in size, making the available display space for organizing, launching, and using the available applications even more limited. Although traditional user interfaces can be used to access the various functionalities and content available on a mobile device, such user interfaces are not well suited for the mobile device environment. Furthermore, traditional icons used to represent the available applications on a computing device have extremely limited functionality and purpose.
Microsoft's Live 3D Icon Solution
Among other innovations described in Microsoft's patent filing, their invention presents various tools and techniques for displaying and using icons to represent more information and functionality than previously possible. For instance, certain embodiments of the disclosed technology use three-dimensional icons that could be rotated to show a user a wide assortment of information, updates, and other functions in a compact and efficient manner.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 1 shown below is a schematic diagram illustrating an exemplary technique for displaying the three-dimensional rotation of an icon on a display of a computing device. In this context, the display is a two-dimensional display and the icon is a two-dimensional representation of an object that could be rotated in three dimensions. The icon could represent a three-dimensional object (e.g., a cube, a sphere, a cylinder (see patent FIG. 5 further below), a polygon, a polyhedron, or any such three-dimensional object), a two-dimensional object (e.g., a tile), or any mixture thereof (e.g., a cube with flippable tiles for sides). Similarly, the rotation of the three-dimensional icon is meant to refer to the appearance or representation of three-dimensional rotation on a two-dimensional display.
In general, icons are small graphic symbols (usually simple pictures) that denote programs, commands, data files and the like. An icon could launch a Microsoft application like Word or used to display content associated with a particular application, such as a day of the week for a calendar application, a temperature for a weather application, a stock price for a stock watching application, a score of a sporting event for a sports application, and other such content.
In Patent figure 1 above we see an icon (140) receiving an update to an application 120 associated with the icon. For example, the icon could be associated with an email application, and the email application could receive an email as an update to the application. Based on the update to the application, the system 100 could rotate the icon in three dimensions 130. For example, as shown at 112, the icon could rotate in three dimensions automatically when the application associated with the icon is updated. At 114, the display of the computing device displays a second panel 142 of the icon. For example, the icon could be animated to rotate to reveal the second panel 142.
Flexible Image and/or Indication Modes
Microsoft states that in the illustrated embodiment, the second panel includes an image or indication (150) associated with the update (e.g., an image associated with the update to the email application). For example, the second panel could display a subject line or sender of the email received by the application as an update. Thus, in response to an update to an application, an icon associated with the application can be rotated to reveal a different panel having some information about the update. Although only two panels of the icon are described above, the icon can have any number of panels.
An indication of an update to an application could include an image or graphic displayed on or next to the panel and could include text (e.g., text characters, formatted text, or character strings), pictures, colors, or other display elements.
The indication of the update could change the image or graphic that was displayed by the panel before the update to the application occurred. The change to the displayed panel image could be based on the application update. An indication could also include an animated graphic, video, or photographic image.
The indication of the update could include a portion or all of the data received in the update. For example, if a text messaging application receives a text message, the text message or portion of the message could be displayed in the panel (e.g., as a static or scrolling message). Also, the indication of the update could be a predetermined message from the application. For example, if an application has downloaded new content, the indication of the update could display a message that the update added new content such as the message: "New Content has been Downloaded."
The indication of the update could be different for different updates. For example, if an application could have both text and photo updates, when a photo update is received the indication of the update could be different than for when a text update is received.
Also, the indication of the update could also be the same for different updates. An indication of the update can be a counter. For example, each time an application is updated a panel assigned to the application can display a counter that is incremented to indicate the application was updated multiple times.
The three-dimensional icon could be displayed as rotating about one or more axes of rotation. Rotating an icon about an axis allows for saving viewable space in the display and the icon could rotate without obscuring other images in a display such as other icons. Saving viewable space in the display allows a user to access applications and icons without having to scroll through multiple display screens.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 3B shown below is a schematic diagram illustrating various states of an exemplary tile icon 350 as it is rotated in three-dimensions. As noted above, rotation in three-dimensions is meant to describe a visual appearance of three-dimensional rotation on a two-dimensional display. Patent FIG. 4A illustrates an exemplary cube-shaped icon in various rotational states.
Music Tile Example
In this example, Microsoft is basically copying one of Apple's iTunes features. Microsoft describes the user being able to manually tap on a panel of a music application and the icon will rotate to display another panel indicating the currently playing song. The panel will either automatically rotate back to the front icon (e.g. photo of artist) or will be manually turned by the user at will.
3D Cylindrical Icons
In Microsoft's patent FIG. 5A shown below we're able to see a schematic diagram of an exemplary icon 500 having a cylindrical shape. The icon could be displayed as flat, in two dimensions, without showing a side or perspective such as shown at 520. The icon could be activated to extend or pop out (e.g., upon being touched by a user or upon an update occurring to an application associated with the icon) to display a three dimensional representation of a cylinder as shown at 530.
The cylindrical icon could have a plurality of panels such as panels 500A through 500C. A panel for a cylinder could be a portion or segment of the surface for the cylinder. For example, as shown in patent point # 530 the panel 500A could be a segment of the surface for the cylinder icon. Any number of panels could be assigned to the cylinder and "virtually" displayed as being part of the same cylinder.
The icon could also be displayed as rotating in three dimensions as shown in patent point # 530. The panels of the icon could be assigned to one or more applications. When the application assigned to panel 500B is updated the icon could then rotate from panel 500A to display panel 500B, as shown in patent points # 532 and 534 below. The icon could rotate up or down. Additionally the icon can be oriented vertically instead of horizontally and the icon can rotate to the left or right.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 5C shown below is a diagram of an exemplary menu for a panel of an icon. The panel could have an individual menu for configuring the panel. In another implementation, the menu could be adapted to configure two or more, or all, of the panels for an icon.
Microsoft's patent application was originally filed in Q2 2011 and published by the US Patent and Trademark Office in Q3 2012.
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