Apple is expected to release the next version of OS X - 10.5 “Leopard” by the end of 2006 or early 2007. Little information has leaked about Leopard but rumours suggest that the Finder of OS X 10.5 (code named ‘Chardonnay’) is going to depend heavily on Spotlight (Apple’s metadata and search tool).
These pat. apps could represent the future of the integration of Spotlight and the Finder or mere dead-ends that were user tested and found to be wanting.
The current Spotlight implementation has an impressive backend (kernal-linked indexing, fast searching etc) but some have suggested lacks a polished user interface to take full advantage of these underpinnings. The current Spotlight implementation seems to focus on making the technology simple but this approach obscures some of its power. These pat. applications show a number of ways the power of spotlight could be harnessed.
There are no fewer than nine patent applications named “Methods and systems for managing data”. These patent applications have not be formally assigned to Apple in the USPTO- this is unusual (though they do appear to be assigned to Apple in the European pat office) and possibly an effort to reduce scrutiny?. A variety of inventors are listed but all have Dominic Giampaolo and Yan Arrouye. Giampaolo worked on the Be File System (famed for its handling of metadata) and now works in both the Spotlight and File System groups at Apple. Arrouye appears to be head of the Spotlight group.
“Overall, however, the Spotlight user interface belies the strength of the service itself. The Spotlight UI is odd, clumsy, limiting, and often downright user-hostile.”
These patent applications show a number of user interfaces (UI) for Spotlight. One interface the ‘Meta Browse‘ shows a modified Finder column view where in the left panel selections are made to refine a search (e.g. what kind of files are you looking for, when were they last accessed etc). This is not dissimilar to the current implementation of searches initiated from a Finder window (though one could argue a column view is more consistent with the overall Finder interface). This interface is seen above and interestingly has its own Search icon in the sidebar. I think this interface perhaps would be rather cumbersome and would confuse new users- as far as I can tell it doesn’t add conceptually to the search interface (i.e. OR queries not allowed). In the picture above you can see that ‘Kind’ is ‘Photos (camera)’ (incidentally not a kind that exists currently) and ‘Time’ is ‘Past Week’.
Another approach to the same problem is seen below. This interface is dubbed the ‘iFinder‘ and allows refinement of the search by means of a magnifying glass icon (e.g. you select kind-> images and the icon pops to the right allowing another round of search refinement). The options for ‘Use Time Line’ and ‘Use Calendar’ suggest interesting UI possibilities- a time line of all my image files might be a good way to see them and find the ones I want.
If you look at the above shot it appears it is Bas Ording’s computer (one of Apple’s Human Interface guys)- he has done a search for ‘meta’ and images and this brought up a number of his Photoshop files he has used to create the interface? It’s odd they would use photoshop to design the interface- why not something like interface builder?
The screen shot on the right shows a couple of options in the search window that didn’t make the final product- How is ‘Group By’ -> ‘Category’ different from ‘Group By’ -> ‘Kind’. The other different option is ‘Sort Within Group by’ -> ‘Popularity’- would this enable sorting by how often the files/applications had been opened?
Other interesting things include files left lying around on the desktop when the screenshot was taken- one screen shows a number of the dashboard ‘Widgets’ but at this stage they are called ‘Gadgets’- I wonder when the change was made? Apparently some of the documentation also - odd!