Apple patent eyes Mac OS X tablet
Or multiple workspace iOS. Take your pick
A patent application published on Thursday reveals how far Apple has progressed on melding iOS's multi-touch interface with Mac OS X, and hints that the Mac operating system's multiple-workspace feature, Spaces, may find its way onto the iPad.
The application, entitled "Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Manipulating Workspace Views", deals with manipulating multiple workspaces through multi-finger touch gestures.
Mac OS X's Spaces feature allows you to view and select from multiple concurrent workspaces
Rather than manipulating Spaces using your keyboard or mouse as Mac OS X now requires, however, the filing envisions using multi-touch, multi-finger gestures to summon the Spaces view, move windows from workspace to workspace, and select which one to fill the display.
"Why bother?" you might ask. Well, according to Apple, using a mouse or keyboard to manage Spaces is "cumbersome and inefficient", requiring "selecting an icon or other small graphical user interface object with a cursor," or "remembering unintuitive keyboard shortcuts". Such actions are not only "tedious and create a significant cognitive burden", they also "wast[e] energy" which is "particularly important in battery-operated devices".
Place five fingers on your Mac's multi-touch display or control surface ...
... pinch them together and the workspace will begin to shrink ...
... until all the active workspaces appear in a Spaces view.
The filing goes to great lengths to describe in detail the configuration and capabilities of an iOS device, but when it details – also at great length – multi-touch multiple-workspace interaction, including 33 illustrations, those illustrations are clearly those of a Mac OS X device.
Only after the 63-page filing finishes explaining each and every one of those illustrations in excruciating detail does it say that "although the preceding examples have been given with reference to a touch screen display, in some embodiments the display and the touch-sensitive surface are separate."
That separation of display and multi-touch surface would follow Apple CEO Steve Jobs assertion that traditionally vertical Mac displays are unsuited for multi-touch use. When discussing multi-touch interfaces during his Mac OS X Lion introduction last October, Jobs said: "We've done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn't work." His conclusion: "touch surfaces want to be horizontal."
Mac OX goes horizontal
A far more likely multi-touch interface for Spaces on a traditional Mac OS X–equipped PC would be either the trackpads built into MacBooks, or standalone devices such as Apple's Magic Trackpad or even an enhanced Magic Mouse. These input devices currently have limited multi-touch support in Mac OS X, and are not yet capable of tap and pinch gestures that use up to all five fingers, as evisioned by Thursday's patent application.
When using a trackpad, multi-touch gestures would have a one-to-one correspondence to what's on your display
Alternatively, Thursday's patent filing might be aimed at a version of Mac OS X that could run on a Mac with a display that could be folded down to near-horizontal, as was detailed in a 2010 patent filing – a trick that's used by the HP TouchSmart 610.
Apple filed a patent last year for a fold-down Mac that could more easily be multi-touch enabled
With all the illustrated emphasis on Mac OS X, it remains a bit of a mystery why the patent filing spends so much time describing an iOS device, and yet doesn't specifically make any mention of that device, also illustrated, using multi-touch gestures for multiple-workspace management à la Mac OS X's Spaces.
Perhaps Apple is pondering a tablet Mac that runs a multi-touch enabled Mac OS X Lion rather than iOS. Perhaps the multi-touch, iOS–running iPad will incorporate the multiple-workspace convenience of Spaces – a development that would most definitiely be a major improvement over the clunky multitasking now enabled by iOS 4.x.
Or perhaps Apple is aiming to patent multi-touch workspace management for both iOS and Mac OS X without revealing any hints as to its future plans for how the two OSes will become more similar in future releases. Or, for that matter, to meld into One OS to Rule Them All
As is always the case with Apple's product plans, we simply have to wait until Jobs reveals what Jobs reveals – or until someone finds a prototype in a Redwood City, California, watering hole. ®