Apple appears to be working on an update to its Cover Flow UI, as patent applications filed by the company show new organization techniques based around spirals and “V” shapes.
Both techniques are born out of a desire to optimize screen space. While Cover Flow looks very pretty, it’s limited as to how much it can display at once. Creating a spiral that appears to recede back into the display allows more icons to fit on-screen.
While it seems like the spiral UI would be just as useful for displaying apps as it would albums, Apple states in the patent application that its primary vision for the technology is for sorting through media files. The company suggests several ways that software could populate the spiral, like displaying all the entries in a playlist, or using Genius recommendations to see other works related to your chosen one.
The patent covers how users will manipulate the UI, dragging icons to its center in order to generate a new spiral based on their contents, and swapping icons around to rearrange play order. As you listen to a playlist, the spiral would slowly rotate, using a fixed location on its edge to identify the current track.
The spiral arrangement is definitely the cooler of the two, but the V arrangement Apple discusses has its advantages as well. While it fits fewer icons on-screen at once, they can be a bit larger, and the interface may be more approachable to users who are used to the linear mechanism behind navigating Cover Flow.
We expect to see one, if not both of these Cover Flow re-designs in future iTunes and iOS releases.