Apple today patented a graphic display concept it calls a virtual sheet, and two things about it struck me — one about its origins, and one about what it might tell us about Apple’s future design language.
The patent is for the visual representation of paper in 3D form, which is, of course, the type of user interface most applicable to Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset…
Virtual Paper Patent
Like Obviously the apple Having been spotted, the Cupertino company today received a patent that takes the concept of paper folding from a two-dimensional world to a three-dimensional one.
Today, the US Patent and Trademark Office has officially granted Apple a patent relating to the future use of virtual paper on devices that will be able to tear, flip, fold and bend while keeping graphics intact in various positions while changing the virtual paper’s angles and projections. The virtual sheet can include 2D and 3D mixed reality content and animation where the image can constantly change depending on the particular situation it is in. These are very cool things that are in the works right now.
Apple’s patent language is, as usual, more intense.
While rendering the default 3D content so that the default 3D content is confined within the circumference of the virtual sheet, the default 3D content can protrude from the first side of the virtual sheet, and the rendering of the default 3D content is based on the second set of world coordinates. On the other hand, the virtual 2D content is displayed as corresponding to the surface of the virtual sheet based on the first set of world coordinates. In some embodiments, the second side of the virtual sheet, which is the opposite of the first side of the virtual sheet (for example, the back side), is rendered with an identical bitmap representation of the virtual 3D content, for example, a blur effect or shadow of the virtual 3D content, Together with the corresponding bitmap representation of the 2D virtual content.
Two things surprised me about this.
It is the latest iteration of the 1983 concept
First, this is the actual last iteration of a concept first seen in the LISA method in 1983!
For anyone who has never used a PC before with Mac and Windows, it’s hard to fathom the revolutionary change introduced by Apple.
Before LISA, computers displayed a list of file and folder names, in text form. What Apple introduced to a few people in 1983, and much more with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, was a graphic representation of my desktop desktop. Directories are now displayed as folders, like the paperback ones that were in common use at the time. Documents were shown as virtual pieces of paper, with their contents indicated, using various icons for written documents, spreadsheets, and graphics.
The only really change since then is that the icons are now a thumbnail of the first page of the actual content, a very small change in the last 39 years! The 1983 concept has certainly stood the test of time.
Will see a return to a more intricate user interface
One of the biggest changes seen in Apple’s design language over the years was, of course, the shift from the skeuomorphic realm pioneered by Scott Forstall, to the flat design introduced when Jony Ive, head of hardware design, also dominated software design.
Forstall and Steve Jobs were both known for their taste for so-called skeuomorphic design. Real world materials like leather and paper would appear in software design especially on the iPad where the Contacts app looked like a real address book and the Calendar app was bound to the skin.
After Forstall launched, Jony Ive took over the design of the software that led to iOS 7 and beyond into what we have today.
Apple’s patent indicates that the Apple headset could see the company return to a more immersive world as it transitions from 2D to 3D.
We expect to launch Apple’s mixed reality headset late this year or early next.
Top photo: Vinicius Amano/Unsplash; Lisa’s photo: RR Auction; Paper image: Kelly Sekima/Unsplash
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