back to article Apple files 3D-interface patent

The US Patent and Trademark Office today published a collection of Apple filings, including a 3D interface that may herald the most radical - or, dare we say, the most bizarre - usability development since Doug Englebart first demoed a window-based GUI 40 years ago yesterday. Described in excruciating detail by AppleInsider, …


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  1. Ned Ludd
    Thumb Down

    Stop The Madness!

    I just want my one-button mouse back!

  2. Anonymous Coward


    I'd be happy if Snow Leopard found a way of designating desktop areas in a way that prevented a mounted disks getting mixed up with a file saved to desktop.

    I think the above provides an intermediate step towards 3D-isms anyway?

  3. Robbie Simpson

    Prior art...

    This seems to be very much like 3DNA, which I played with several years ago and seems to have died in 2004. It was fun to use for a little while, but it certainly did not improve my productivity...

  4. Pyros

    Oh, hi!

    Can we say "Microsoft Bob?"

    Mine's the one with discounted '95 software in it....

  5. Da Andersson


    Sounds like an Applified version of the current Compiz Cube for the Linux Desktop.


  6. Pierre Silver badge
    Jobs Horns

    Increase the fancyness, decrease productivity

    Have you ever seen a OS-X type "working"? It's amazing, the time they waste clicking and sliding stuff around! Even worst than in Vista (and that's saying something). I can believe that the switch from console to graphical interface has been a plus (especially for the lusers who can't be bothered to RTFM, but also for the organization-deficient types who never know exactly where the heck they put this facking file -that would be me, then. "find / -name myfile" can take a long time, depending on the number of external drives attached to the system). But since the very beginning of the graphical interface, each step towards fancyness has been detrimental to productivity. I expect a full-3D desktop to be a huge step in that very direction. the worst thing is that the fancy guys don't even realize that they are wasting humongous amounts of time with their toys. Last week I was working with -read aside- an "OS-X" friend. She was writing some kind of project while I was preparing a pre-meeting briefing. I helped her with a few ideas and was struck by the time she spent just moving the mouse around to retrieve her Word document, set the layout, change display things and the like. For no actual work done. As for me, I typed my stuff in vim, ran Lout (quite similar to LaTeX, only 500 times smaller). It took me 5 minutes -max- to fix the layout because I had to make a few changes in my template file, whereas she had been spending more than half an hour playing with numbering, alignment, bold/italics, paragraph spacing and such things. You know what she told me? "Why do you use this, it takes so much time!". You gotta hear it to believe it. 5 minutes of real work are less fun than 30 minutes playing with graphical menus I guess. People nowadays....

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Easily pleased?

    I'd still settle for a user based ability to partition the present 2D-ish desktop into pleasantly workable bits possibly as an intermediary to 3d-isms.

  8. Simpson

    Two point Oh

    Microsoft BOB

  9. Adrian Esdaile
    Jobs Horns

    I'll see your patent Apple, and raise you....

    HAH! I just patented WRITTEN COMMUNICATION, suckers!

    See all those funny words and letters thingies that you use for menus?

    Licence fee please: $5 per letter per user.

    Terms 7 days.

    Cheques, small denomination unmarked notes and Pobble beads accepted.

    Heck, I'll even take Ningis.

    Just pay up, twatdanglers!

  10. Jach

    Wow, Apple.

    I remember seeing this stuff years ago. Losing innovative touch?

    @Pierre: I suggest you use slocate or RTFM on find to speed up those searches. =P But now I'm going to check out lout.

  11. Matt
    IT Angle

    A joke

    Seems you can patent anything these days. I think i'll patent oxygen at the weekend; you want to breath, pay up!!

    There are numerious examples of 3D interfaces already in existance, Looking Glass and BumTop just being two examples.

    Apple and specificly Jobs are complete nobjockys.

  12. Dan Keating

    3D 'development'

    One word for Mac users ... 'Compiz'

    Welcome to yesterday suckers!!!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle


    To be honest I don't see this as particularly ground-breaking, it's certainly pretty achievable today.

    As a DJ I've used "3D" proximity sensors to mix/add effects several times in the last year (I apologise I can't remember the soddin' brand - I tried to find it, then gave up...). For these purposes the tech is absolutely soddin' incredible, really "pushing the envelope" of how I interact with the equipment. Unfortunately I don't really see how this is going to help me use a Pierre has said, it ain't gonna help efficiency.

    Especially given the limited IQ of many lusers...

  14. Mark Broadhurst
    Jobs Horns

    Next week...

    Apple files for a Patent on a "portable" computer.

    Howmany more Patent's are they going to file on other peoples ideas ?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    FIrst piccy looks a lot like MS Bob.

    Surely there are far too many actual 3D UIs via video gaming which are conficting prior art......

  16. Nebulo
    Thumb Down


    Pierre is right - more clutter, less useful There are no icons at all, still less files, on my desktop - I have an efficiently organised popup menu and can immediately find whatever I want. If I need even more space, I switch to another virtual desktop, by mouse or hotkey. For which blessing, my eternal thanks to Litestep, which makes this box usable.

  17. Andy

    Where's that little fellow?

    Um, 3D interface, other story from 11th, recording dreams...

    Are these news stories or has someone just watched Minority Report?

  18. Clint Sharp
    Paris Hilton

    Ah, no thank you, we've alreay got one..

    Looks like umm, my office. Except tidier.

    Apart from that, I don't want *more* stuff on my desktop, I want less.

    Holy grail of the desktop, I think not. More Apple claim staking patents.

    Paris, the 3d interface I most want.

  19. Gulfie
    Paris Hilton


    I'm a Mac user of 12 months having previously used only Windows (3.1 through XP). Can't say I recognise your rant as representative of my working experience. I find the Mac GUI no worse that the Windows one I continue to use at work, and frequently better. It sounds like your friend needs to hear two words:

    Keyboard Shortcuts

    Or it could simply be that she likes the Mac experience so much she actually prefers to play with her desktop than do the work that pays the bills...

    Pais, 'cos I've heard she prefers to play too.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another patent..

    .. that has been done before and information released ages ago

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    This isn't new

    I'm not known for my affinity to Apple. But come on! This kind of thing has been around since Windows 95!

    <mactard>OMG! ORGASM! using this new interface is better than sex!</mactard>

  22. Simon Ward
    Thumb Down

    Prior art ...

    Doesn't compiz do this sort of thing already?

  23. Martin Lyne


    I'm fairly sure I've seen something like this demo'd already (had physics too so you could stack and spread and throw documents around), not by apple, not to mention plenty of games have 3D interfaces.

    3D is great, look how well Aero sold. Oh wait.

  24. Ben
    IT Angle

    @ Pierre

    So what you're actually saying is that using something similar to LaTeX is more efficient than M$ Word...

    And using LaTeX on a Mac would be diffeent because?

  25. Tony

    Been done before

    Yet another stupid patent - I have seen several demos that already do exactly what Apple are proposing here. One student thesis springs to mind that looked exactly like the first picture in this article... Only it wasn't just a 3d line drawing of a concept - It was already a working interface. At best Apple have missed the boat here, at worst they are blatantly trying to 'patent squat' on concepts already developed by others.

    Either way I'm not surprised that the US patent office granted the patents - They grant patents on vague ideas with no details of the mechanism for actually achieving the concept described and without checking if the idea is even original. They are just a mechanism for American companies to attempt to profit from others work.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    compiz cude indeed

    So now apple have been playing with compiz.

    Or have they been watching jurassic park? I seem to recall a 3D user interface there (unix if the plot is to be believed!).

    Or have they been watching some other futuristic sci-fi? They all seem to have 3D point (finger-not-mouse) no-click interfaces.

    I, Robot

    Matrix 2/3

    Minority report



  27. Steve Martins
    Thumb Down

    Non obvious?

    I thought things were only patentable when they were deemed non-obvious - as a previous poster stated there are projects which can be cited as prior artwork, and not least i spent time myself messing around with the halflife development kit toying with the idea of putting application windows on the walls of an environment, so you could literally browse your OS.

    well seeing as apple can do it, i'm off to find something bleedin' obvious to patent...

  28. jubtastic1
    Thumb Down

    Fits law

    The Menu-bar has dropped a couple of inches from the top of the screen crippling one of the Macs most useful features, If this is for real I don't think it's supposed to be operated with a mouse.

  29. The BigYin


    I was thinking a similar thing. I quite like using the cube to find stuff I have put on other workspaces. Not sure it increases my productvity any, but is does sure look funky!

    @AC 23:48

    Now that is an idea. Desktop "zones" for links to related files/devices. You should patent that (and I wonder if there a widget somewhere that would let me do this...?)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    madness effect

    All current macs can manage multile workspaces using OS X's Spaces feature. This is simply another way of arranging those workspaces in a visual representation. OK if you've got a big enough monitor but not anything to get excited about.

    If you put four proximity detectors into the sides of your screen then you can get the inside of your "virtual cube" to swing around when you put your hand near a "wall". The graphics are already part of the OS X and are used for fast user switching. This could come in Snow Leopard with minimal work.

    This is nice but nothing amazing.

    I'm sure that Vista's "widgets on a desktop" will also form part of this workspace.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo


    So, you're judging ALL Mac users based on your experiences of just ONE you saw?

    Ever considered the fact this particular person is just works a bit slow? Plus the fact geeks like you don't care about presentation - I bet her project was far better presented than your briefing. You can't program subtleties of layout and design in vim and lout.

    I am at least 10 times more productive using a Mac than a PC, and I have to use both equally every day in my job. Everything takes about 5 steps more in Windows, and just basic file and window management is so cumbersome. Jumping from folder to folder, moving stuff around is so much easier on a Mac. Where's the column view on Windows? Where's the ability to drill down through folders without opening multiple windows or even clicking? Why do I have to keep dismissing speech bubbles telling me stupid things I already know?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    You lot are missing the point...


    This credit crunch/recession thing must be really starting to cut deep...

    By the way, 2 things come to mind:

    1. Maybe Apple are patenting the paradigm shift of future computational application where the computer is not limited to virtual display in a glass box, but where the files will be materialised via a printer or somesuch and put into folders in cabinets and arranged in an office or something. They'll do away with the mouse and replace it with a hand or something, and rather than typing you can use a scribing device such as a pen.

    2. The circular tubular version - anyone else remindered of the classic Elite games?

  33. Eddie Edwards
    Thumb Up


    Maybe now the reflection on the trash can will be accurate.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    How the f--- can you patent this s--t, all these bs software patents should belong to sci-fi authors. Christ. Hell I got this gorgeous OS in my mind, it's all sleek and 3d and shizz, maybe I should draw a picture and get some dumb yank to patent it.

    And I'm sure I recall some lame fail like this on win98... Jesus, I hope they all die of anthrax.

    bah humbug

  35. Anonymous Coward

    I can see a use for 3D

    Apple spaces (multiple desktops you can flip between, and yes we all know unix/linux has had it for years yawn) is a nice feature, but might be more intuitive if the other spaces where displayed as a 3D backdrop to your desktop. But hay just because previous 3D desktops didn't add much doesn't mean it can't be done better. I remember using a styles for touch screens ages a go and it was so so, but the iPhone really took touch screen to a new level. The Man Machine interface is still in it's infancy sheeple. Innovations could still take it in a different direction. You lot might know how to use a computer, but my users don't have to, they just play with an interface, that is just a copy of magazine/newspaper layouts. I don't think the user interface has found it's own optimum design just yet.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You might want to go back and read Pierre's article again. Clue: he wasn't comparing Window to OS X.

    @Pierre: The beauty of OS X is that it is very BSD. It does pretty when I want pretty and it does vim, locate, find, pushd, etc when I want to get some work done. And then back to the pretty when I'm refactoring.

  37. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    The system's utterly broke

    "I thought things were only patentable when they were deemed non-obvious..."

    That was the original intention, and presumably there is wording to that effect in the international treaties surrounding IP, at least the original ones. However, for convenience (theirs not yours) most patent offices will indeed patent anything if the cheque doesn't bounce, taking the view that the obvious and non-novel stuff will get kicked out in the courts if it inconveniences anyone, and in the meantime the government gets paid.

    Of course, if you have method of cheap access to a court system that never makes mistakes, *that* would be worth patenting.

  38. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    That tubular view...

    I'm sure that's the flight control panel from a Taelon shuttle.

    I for one welcome the interface of our androgynous blue overlords.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    @AC 10:09

    Dude - learn how to use the options menu on your computer...

    "Where's the column view on Windows? Where's the ability to drill down through folders without opening multiple windows or even clicking? Why do I have to keep dismissing speech bubbles telling me stupid things I already know?"

    Windows seems to be nothing but columns, unless you're one of those people who likes tiled stuff - you can do either and set folders to remember the setting applied to them. Drill down always opens in the same window as that's the default unless you select the "open in new window" option, though speech bubbles can get annoying, I only have a few programs I allow to notify me that way...

    Boffin icon? Where's the equivalent n00bie icon for this guy?

  40. James


    When I read the headline I thought it was real 3D (which would be a breakthrough). This is just a 3D representation on a 2D surface....

    When we get 3D holographic objects floating in the air around your desk (physical one) and can use them as though we were controlling real 3D objects THEN and ONLY THEN do we have a 3D interface. (My Patent !! - though as someone above has it - SciFi writers have already used it - even Dixons or Currys had something similar in one of their "futuristic" adverts - no it didn't encourage me to buy either).

    Come on Apple, how about a bit of real innovation - get a 20 year jump ahead on current technology and you're laughing......

    Mines the emperors coat over there........... why is everyone laughing?

  41. Ian Davies

    @ Pierre

    It's always highly amusing to see people applying their own characteristics (you: command-line using Richard Stallman wannabe, her: hairspray-addled simpleton who can't find her way around a word processor) as though they are somehow representative of the computer-using public at large. Or indeed anyone. I know and work with *plenty* of people who are just fine at being productive on a computer, thankyou. In the case of your colleague, I think you'll find the problem lies between the chair and the keyboard.

    Oh, and since when did difficulties with a cross-platform third party bit of software like Microsoft Word somehow translate into "evidence" of the complexity of Mac OS X?

    You clown.

  42. jai

    re: Interesting?

    erm... you can organise the view on the Desktop to sort by Kind

    that'll keep all the disks in the top right corner, and then folders and then files

  43. Mark.L.P


    Ah sweet, a new generation of UI to confuse the pants off everybody :) .

    Personally I don't want to smudge an expensive monitor with my fingers to use it.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    3DNA did this years ago

    I use it occasionally, it's not bad but by no means fantastic. Works in 3D Stereo if memory serves, so it's freakin sweet with an autostereoscopic display, 3D wiimote hand-tracking and an audience to say "bloody hell, how'd you do that?!". "Tactile" is a nice 3D file system browser if anyone's interested in this sort of thing.

    Or alternatively there's the Compiz cube, which has the various different screens maped onto the inside faces of a cube.

    There's probably a way of mapping screens to walls in Half Life as alluded to by a previous poster- I've had a quick go at that too but gave up.

    People have been doing 3D interfaces for a donkey's years. And so far none of them have been very good except the "desk and cabinet" system. That's the only 3D interface that's ever been any good and- by the looks of things- that ever will be.

    What new information will this bring, or what will it make faster / easier? You'll still alt-tab (or mac equivalent if they have one) between windows, it's just that you'll get a whooshy sound effect and some pretty blurring effects. Now if it was a completely new interface and new way of working with a computer system that could be useful. But it isn't.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Please, this is just showing what a screen would look like. And it just looks like a room if someone could stack something in it. The individual that actually submitted this should be slapped for wasting time. Now... if they submitted a device that creates a three-dimensional display, that would be different. All they've done is show what anyone could do, show someone's cluttered display if the technology was there. Maybe Lucas should sue since 'Jedi' had a 3-D display before this. That isn't something you patent. This only allows apple to sue someone else that actually creates hardware because apple may be able to create the screen-shots apple in this patent.

    I don't care either way about apple. They just haven't made anything that's patentable.

    Good thing that no one patented the 'concept' of a car, bicycle, or something else inane.

  46. Nexox Enigma

    Screen Space Efficiency?

    Seems that Apple doesn't especially value their users' screen space. That menu bar and the dock already consume far more space than they need to, and hiding the dock just makes it bounce up and get in the way inconveniently.

    This new 'technology' is just going to throw more of your pixels to various un-usable edges and corners, which is the sort of thing that slowly grinds away my soul when I encounter it.

    As you may have guessed, I am the sort of person that has spent measureable amounts of time trying to save 4 pixels of vertical resolution by re-arranging my gui and things. I'm just glad that Fluxbox allows me to customize /everything/ on the screen to my preference, which is one of things that really turns me off about the OSX gui.

    And I think that Pierre may have been confusing a couple topics:

    - Non-graphical tools may be faster and easier than their GUI counterparts, and there are a large amount of people who are violently against believing this. I argue on occasion, but most of the time I just let them get on with their slow, mouse-driven lives. I know for certain that LaTeX is faster for me than Word, even if I do occasionaly have to whip out TFM and R it. At least I can use VIM, where I can navigate a document at ungodly speeds compared with scrolling and clicking.


    -Many OSX users don't really do much. That isn't really a fair generalization, and I know plenty of people that manage to produce work on OSX. I wouldn't say they're faster or slower than people on other operating systems, because there are more factors involved than choice of interface. But I think that we can all agree that we know a few OSX zealots that spend their time on facebook and making Photobooth images with their foreheads all expanded out and not even pretending to do work. It seems that there are a fair amount of OSX apps that actively encourage this sort of time-expendature (Christmas is coming up, so I get to look forward to a couple hours of videos that my Uncle made in Garageband, mostly featuring my 7 year old cousin distinctly not singing very well) and so it isn't so hard to understand why some individuals might think OSX is dominated by useless individuals.

    But yes, you can write a paper just as well on OSX as Windows, largely because you can install just about the same software on each.

    In summary, can't we all just get along and use whatever works best for us? I can't stand to use OSX for extended periods, I can tolerate Windows, and I like my highly tuned Linux desktops, but I don't think that anyone in their right mind should agree with me. And rants like this are why I normally avoid commenting on these fanboy topics.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Apple Pie

    A patent costs a few thousands dollars to file, if I had a few million dollars I'd probably just patent random things that occur in my mind and then sue the person who eventually invents it. Before you know it I'd be a millionaire!

  48. David Kelly
    Thumb Down


    Perhaps you should get to know OS X before you ridicule it. I have found my productivity increase enormously since moving from a Linux to Mac desktop.

  49. Niels
    Thumb Down

    a patent on this not-new crap?

    A patent on this crap? Microsoft Bob anyone? Loads of computer games should hopefully qualify as prior art? Oh wait, my friend's Waterwise software, teaching kids how to save electricity and water would qualify for sure as prior art...

    This is Ludicrous. Go away Steve...

  50. Master Baker

    Real desktop 3D interaction

    would require a new input/output device surely?

    I would suggest an adventurous ladies arse. In, out, shake it all about. You'd be productive and have fun at the same time.

    It would be that one step closer towards that HR Giger human-computer fusion which really is the future. It's not garlic bread. That's not the future. Using a ladies arse to control your desktop and manage your files. Now that's the future.

    TFI Friday.


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