Apple Experimenting With 3D GUIs For iOS Devices

BY Rounak Jain

Published 12 Jan 2012

A newly published patent application describes Apple’s experiments with 3D GUIs, utilizing the wide array of sensors available on iOS devices.

The patent, titled “Sensor Based Display Environment,” begins by describing the problems associated with navigating 3D GUIs using fingers or styluses due to limited screen size.

The patent instead, proposes using orientation data from sensors like the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass, which are present on most iOS devices, to introduce a sense of perspective in the interface. That is, the device, using its on-board sensors and GPU, would display frames on the screen that change as the device orientation changes.

The device could also recognize gestures performed at a distance from the iOS device, using multiple proximity sensors. The display could then accordingly react.

Apple's 3D GUI Patent 1

Patently Apple describes a few scenarios which make the central idea of the patent very clear (refer to the image above):

[A]s the user rotates their mobile device clockwise (about the X axis of rotation), the camera view moves toward sidewall 112a. Likewise, as the user rotates their mobile device counterclockwise, the camera view moves toward sidewall 112b. As the user rotates their mobile device clockwise (about the Y axis of rotation), the camera view moves toward the ceiling. As the user rotates their mobile device counterclockwise (about the Y axis), the camera view moves toward floor.

Now such a fancy UI would obviously make navigation to a certain view difficult, which is why Apple introduces a “snap to” feature. By performing a preset gesture, the device could “snap to” a certain view. Think of it like, pressing the home button to reach to the first page of your home screen, except that in this case the gesture could even be at a distance from the device and the interface would be 3D.

Apple's 3D GUI Patent

The patent indicates that the above images can be a possible representation of the home screen, in which case Apple is taking skeuomorphic user interfaces to a whole new level.

As Patently Apple points out, iOS’ home screen is fairly static when compared to Windows Phone’s live tiles or Android’s widgets. This might be Apple’s attempt to introduce dynamism into the home screen.

It goes without saying that, patents may not necessarily mean that this UI is coming to iOS devices anytime soon. But with GPUs becoming more powerful and efficient, it does make sense that Apple is exploring such possibilities.

To get a slight taste of what this 3D arrangement might look like, try out Labyrinth on the App Store, which offers a similar 3D view of the  wooden Labyrinth.

[via Apple Insider, Patently Apple]