Apple patent describes graphical implementation of contact lists for the iPhone

Wed, Mar 30, 2011


A new patent filing unearthed by AppleInsider last week suggests that Apple is exploring ways to improve browsing through and selecting contacts on the iPhone. In a patent titled “Segmented Graphical Representations for Recommending Elements”, Apple describes a more graphically engaging way for users to navigate through their list of contacts.

Under the current implementation, user contacts are merely presented in an alphabetical list. Apple’s patent, however, describes a more graphical interface where users could choose a contact from a grid of pictures. Taking things further, the patent goes on to describe a system where users can group contacts by category like Family or Work and have that group represented by a universal image, such as a company logo for example.

The patent filing reads in part, “Unlike an alphabetically organized address book, this interface may allow [the] electronic device… to provide an address book that is intuitive to the user, and may enable a user to quickly call a number of users from the same contact group in succession.”

The implementation described above isn’t entirely new, and while intriguing on the surface, a number of practical problems underlie it. For starters, there’s something remarkably efficient about Apple’s current contact setup. Scroll quickly through a vertical list with a flick of the finger or quickly jump to a desired spot in the alphabet by tapping on a letter on the right hand side of the screen. A grid system for contacts, while aesthetically pleasing, might limit the speed with which one can hop to a desired contact on account of the limited number of spots on the grid. We suppose, though, that one might be able to scroll horizontally through a number of grids within a specific grouping.

A more practical problem is the cold hard reality that not too many people have photos associated with their contact list, rendering a grid solution somewhat moot. And while there are ways for users to fetch iTunes artwork for CoverFlow, it’s not like you can fetch photos of your friends from the web directly into your contacts list. It would be cool, though, if there was some soft of facebook integration that could handle all of that heavy lifting.

In any event, it’s hard to read too much into this patent as Apple perpetually files patents for technologies and systems it never puts into a final product. Still, with iOS 5 rumored to be a major upgrade, it’ll be interesting to see what UI changes, if any, Apple has in store for us come fall.



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