First seen in iOS 4, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,423,911 for a "Device, method, and graphical user interface for managing folders" describes the key methods used to rearrange app icons in the mobile operating system.
The extensive and detailed document covers app icon manipulation as it relates to creating, rearranging and managing folders within the iOS environment. As noted by the patent background, the invention solves the need for a simple but powerful method of folder modification that requires only a few steps to reach the desired result.
From the patent background:
For example, using a sequence of inputs to create, modify and/or delete folders and content within folders is tedious and creates a significant cognitive burden on a user. In addition, existing methods take longer than necessary, thereby wasting energy.
In the embodiments described, Apple's app management system is outlined, from "jiggle mode" to the folder opening animation. Besides the ability to carry more apps in one folder, not much has changed since the system was introduction in 2010.
Creating a folder by dragging one icon above another.
As described in the patent, a user selects an on-screen asset, such as an app or folder icon, until it starts to "jiggle." This denotes that the UI is now in reconfiguration mode, which allow for folder creation, rearrangement of icons within folders, and moving folders to different screens, among other operations.
Key to the method is the detection of UI object detection. For example, when a user drags one app icon onto another app icon, thus causing them to overlap, the device creates a folder and displays an animation that denotes a folder is about to be created. In iOS 6, this is represented as a blinking container surrounding the target app, and the "shifting" of a first part of the background away from a second part in a splitting action.
Process of adding an app to a folder, with "splitting" animation.
Once a user releases their finger from the screen, the app is added to the selected folder, and a name is automatically generated based on the apps' metadata. The resulting folder displays its contents by showing small representations of the apps within, a feature that can truly be appreciated with Apple's latest Retina display-toting devices.
Interestingly, the patent describes for an alternative method of folder creation that calls for a user to touch a "folder creation region" on the device's screen, which invokes an animation of an empty folder moving out of the region. This system was not used in the final implementation of iOS folders.
Unused implementation of folder patent with "folder regions."
Moving back to object detection, the patent holds that users can drag an icon to the edges of a touch sensitive display, triggering the device to move to the next page of icons if the asset is held in that position for a predetermined amount of time.
Object recognition also plays a role in how apps behave when being rearranged. For example, a vertical or horizontal threshold can be assigned to icons that, when arranging apps onscreen, will move according to predefined proximity thresholds. This is seen when icons are "pushed" out of the way to make room for an app that is being relocated.
One interesting passage from the patent language describes the thinking behind the "jiggling" apps while in reconfiguration mode:
From the patent description:
For example, as illustrated in FIG. 5B, the selectable user interface objects jiggle as though they are floating on water (e.g., each respective selectable user interface object oscillates about a respective average position of the selectable user interface object on the display).
Jiggle animation and folder creation.
Other embodiments describe how the icons are displayed when in reconfiguration mode. For example, an app can show a removal or deletion badge, currently seen as the "X" located at the top left corner of an app. Transparencies, app design and animations, among other graphical assets, are further detailed in the lengthy property.
Apple's iOS folder patent was first filed for in September 2010, and is related to six other properties describing other facets of the utility. Imran Chaudhri is credited as the patent's inventor.
In a related design patent, also issued to Apple on Tuesday, Chaudhri was credited for the "splitting" graphical animation seen when opening a folder in iOS. The asset illustrated shows the folder renaming text box and multiple instances of apps within, as seen from the Springboard and the dock.