Apple Looking Into 3D App And File Drawer To Extend Mac OS X Dock

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A new patent application from Apple spotted by Patently Apple describes a modification to the OS X dock that combines elements of the iBooks shelves it uses in iOS devices with Launchpad to provide quicker access to more apps from a user’s desktop. The application, filed in May 2011, could be an indicator of how Apple is thinking about changes to OS X’s current app launching tools for upcoming iterations of its desktop OS.

The patent describes a multi-level dock that resembles the 3D bookshelf-type interface it uses for iBooks and Newsstand in its graphic renditions. The feature would be optionally configurable, and would feature quite a few more apps than it’s possible to include in the dock. The dock could be configured using a settings tool available when it’s fully extended, and there are sort tools described in the patent for arranging the elements it contains according to different criteria, or for searching for the app you’re looking for.

The app drawer concept actually has a lot of benefits over the Launchpad feature Apple introduced in OS X Lion. It sounds like it might be a little more useful in the concurrent computing model of the desktop environment where you’re running multiple apps at the same time in side-by-side windows. Still, it also seems to have some of the skeuomorphic design elements that departing Apple iOS chief Scott Forstall was known for, so I have to wonder if we’ll ever see it in shipping products, at least as described in this patent. Still, it does represent an alternative to the traditional Finder file system, which is something Apple seems to want to move away from.

If there’s anything really worth taking away here, though, it’s the usefulness of those auto-sorting and search features. Launchpad now has a dedicated search bar, but the other features — including easy sorting and labels that could classify files and apps in different rows on the 3D dock — would genuinely benefit usability, albeit at the expense of simplicity. Rumors are flying that we’ll see Apple’s OS X 10.9 sometime next year, however, so we shouldn’t have to wait too long to see if any of these concepts become reality.