EXCLUSIVE: Apple Patent app describes way for users to resize icons

A newly published Apple Patent application describes technology that would let users adjust the size of their icons.The Patent app is entitled, Graphical user interface for computers having variable size icons.
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor

A newly published Apple Patent application describes technology that would let users adjust the size of their icons.

The Patent app is entitled, Graphical user interface for computers having variable size icons.

What's significant about this application is- unlike the 18-month window we often see between the Patent application filing and posting on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website- the time gap here is only four months.

Sometimes, short application-posting times owe to an imminent release of a technology described in the Patent.

While we don't know the full story as to why this Patent app has been posted so relatively quickly, we can learn more about what's at stake by reading the Patent Abstract:

A computer user interface is provided which allows a user to adjust the size of icons based upon a user's preference or based upon a characteristic of the objects that the icons represent. When the icon sizing is performed according to a user preference, a relative sizing scheme or an arbitrary icon sizing scheme can be employed to variably size icons. Providing the ability to size icons in such a manner allows users to represent a user's categorization of object importance, for example.

For a deeper read about what's being proposed, follow me to views of Figure 5 and 6, with explanatory text for each.

Every object that is stored within the computer system has associated data that determines the manner in which it is graphically represented by the user interface. FIG. 5 illustrates one example of a data structure that can be used to store this information. Each object has a unique identifier 60, such as a numerical value, and is associated with a container 62 in which it is logically stored.

For instance, the container could be the desktop of the user interface, a storage medium in the computer system, or a folder stored within that medium. When a container or folder is opened, a window is displayed, and the icons associated with that container are displayed in the window at respective location 64.

An icon's location may be indicated by a pair of x and y coordinates that indicate the location of the center or upper left corner of the icon, relative to a reference point on the window, e.g. its upper left corner. The icon is displayed as a designated image 66, and with label or name 68, which might be chosen by the user.

In accordance with the invention, the data that is stored for an icon also includes sizing information. A first field 70 indicates whether the icon is to have sizing applied to it, and if so how the sizing is determined.

For instance, a value of zero in this field might indicate that the default value for the computer system, or the container's window, is to be employed. A value of one could indicate that variable sizing is carried out in accordance with an object characteristic, and a higher value might indicate that a user-designated value is to be employed for variable sizing. For instance, a value of 2 can indicate that the user value designates relative sizes for the icons, whereas, a value of 3 might indicate that the user has designated the absolute size to be utilized.

If any of the variable sizing options are chosen, the value in a second field 72 indicates the size for the icon. If the option for a user designated size is selected, the value in the second field 72 is determined by the user.

For instance, in the example of FIG. 5, the document objects represented in the second and third data columns, which are both located in "Folder 1", have a sizing value of "2", which means that their icons are displayed according to user-designated relative sizes. The relative size value of the object in the second column, named "Doc1", is 1 which indicates that it's icon will be displayed with the largest size. Since "Doc2" has a relative sizing value of "2", it will be displayed at the next largest size.

In contrast, the object represented in the last column of the exemplary table, "Doc1" in "Folder 10", has a sizing value of 3, which means that it is displayed at a user-designated absolute size. In this case, the user has specified a value of 57, so that the icon image is scaled to a size of 57.times.57 pixels.

If the sizing is to be carried out in accordance with an object characteristic, the field 72 can contain a value which identifies the type of characteristic that is to be used, e.g. number of items, modification date, etc.

Alternatively, it can contain the actual value for the characteristic, as shown for the example in the fourth data column of FIG. 5. For instance, if the chosen characteristic is number of objects in a container, that number can be reflected in the "Value" field 72, e.g. 78 files.

Now, we go to Figure 6.

As illustrated in FIG. 6, the icon sizing application 15 can be invoked when a user desires to vary the relative size of icons displayed on the display device 4. In step 510, when a user wishes to change the size of icons, the icon sizing application is opened, for instance by means of an operating system level command or a control panel. Once the application is opened, in step 515, a user is able to choose the manner in which icons are able to be sized.

If a user desires to have icons sized based upon an object characteristic (discussed with respect to FIG. 3), in step 520, the sizing application requests the user to indicate the icons to be sized, within a window, and the object characteristic to be used in the sizing of the icons.The icon sizing application 15 searches the objects associated with the selected icons and determines a value for the required object characteristic. This value can be stored in the data field 72. In step 525, the processor performs a sort function to order respective icon images of associated objects based upon the object characteristic.

In step 530, the icons representing the objects having the two extreme values for the object characteristic are assigned a maximum icon size (e.g., 128-by-128 pixel area) and minimum size (e.g., 16-by-16 pixel area), respectively.

In step 535, the remaining intermediate icon images are sized in direct proportion to the minimum and maximum preferences determined by the sorting routine. For example, referring to FIG. 3, if the maximum sized folder (128-by-128 pixel area) has 100 documents and the minimum sized folder (16-by-16 pixel area) has 10 documents, then a folder containing 55 documents would have a size of 72-by-72 pixel area.

In another facet of the present invention, if an object characteristic changes (e.g., the number of documents increases or decreases), the icon image representing the object in the display device 4 can be dynamically revised to represent the changed characteristic of the object. It should be noted that the specific maximum and minimum sizes of icon images are merely exemplary. The maximum and minimum size for icons can also be chosen via user input in addition to system requirements/limitations.

On the other hand, in step 515, the user can choose to designate icon sizes. In this case, at step 537, the user can choose further either the relative size of icons or can arbitrarily size icons. In step 540, if a user desires to choose the relative size of each icon within a window as a preference item (discussed with respect to FIG. 4), the sizing application requires the individual to choose an order of icons and their relative sizes.

For example, a user can sequentially choose icons by selecting the icons (either via keyboard or mouse) in a desired order. The icon sizing application will then save the sequential order in which the icons were selected in the field 72 and next determine the relative sizes of each icon, dependent upon the size of the maximum and minimum icons and the number of icons to be sized.

Alternatively, the user can manually choose an icon and manually input a number indicating the relative ranking of the icons. icons and the number of icons to be sized.

Alternatively, the user can manually choose an icon and manually input a number indicating the relative ranking of the icons.

In step 545, the processor sorts icon images according to the given user preference value and assigns the maximum icon size (MAX) and minimum icon size (MIN) allowable to the icon images with the highest user preference value and lowest user preference value, respectively. In step 550, once the maximum and minimum sizes are ascertained, an image size gap is calculated to provide an equal size gap between icon image sizes, as follows: Image Size Gap=(MAX-MIN)/(N-1), where N is equal to the number of variable sizes chosen by the user.

As an example, using the four size differences discussed with respect to FIG. 4 and a maximum and minimum icon image size of 16-by-16 and 128-by-128, respectively an icon image size gap of 37.33 pixels is calculated. Since an icon size employing fractional pixels is not practical, the size of the icon is rounded, either up or down, to the nearest whole pixel value (i.e., in this case, either 37 or 38). In step 580, once the proper size gap between the icons is calculated, the icons are assigned a corresponding size and displayed.

Referring back to step 537, the user can decide not to choose a relative size of icons, but rather individually choose the absolute size of specific icons. In step 557, the individual can select an icon or a group of icons and specifically input an icon size for the icon(s).

In step 560, once the variable icon sizes have been determined, the icon data associated with the icons is retrieved from the video memory 12 or CPU memory 6 by the icon services application 8.

The icon image data can be stored in memory in several different ways. For example, instead of storing data for only a 16-by-16 icon image representation, data for multiple icon representations (e.g., 16-by-16, 64-by-64 and 128-by-128) icon images can be stored.

The video processor 11 or CPU processor 9 can then retrieve icon data from memory having the size that is the closest to the icon data to be displayed and scale the data accordingly to obtain the icon image size needed.

This allows for better image display than merely having one icon image representation for all possible icon image sizes. In step 565, the icon image data, if not the exact size needed for display, is then sized by the CPU to the size to be displayed.

Finally, in step 570, the different sized icons are rendered and displayed on the display device 4.

Accordingly, the use of the icon sizing application 15 in accordance with the present invention provides a way for a user to indicate preferences with respect to individual icons or individual groupings of icons. By having display system size icons based either upon a specific user preference and/or user-chosen object characteristic, a more intuitive graphical user interface can be employed in computer systems.

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