Apple wins patent rights to OS X 'widgets' and dashboard

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent for the so-called "widgets" dashboard, which holds a number of mini applications built on web languages CSS, HTML and JavaScript, first seen in OS X 10.4 Tiger in 2005.

Widget Dashboard
Source: USPTO


According to the filing, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,321,801 for "Desktop widgets for presentation in a layer," was invented to do away with the information overload some users may experience with a modern desktop UI like OS X.

Widgets can be loosely defined as small WebKit applications that can connect to the internet for information gathering purposes, such as a weather widget. Other examples include stock market tickers, flight trackers and sticky notes.

From the patent summary:
Widgets can be of any type. They can communicate with a remote server to provide information to the user (for example, a weather report), or they can provide commonly needed functionality (for example, a calculator), or they can act as an information repository (for example, a notepad or calendar). Some widgets can provide a combination of these types of functions. In one aspect, an application programming interface (API) is provided so as to allow third-party developers to create and distribute additional widgets that provide different types of functionality.
iTunes Widget
Media player widget can open full-fledged media player from dashboard.


The '801 patent is a continuation of past Apple patents, and offers a broad outline describing how widgets operate and are presented in OS X.

Starting with user interactivity, the property calls for a dashboard that holds a plurality of widgets, which can be rearranged and resized depending on content or preference. This dashboard first appeared in OS X Tiger as an overlay that could be accessed via a keyboard command, as described in the patent language, and when activated would take over the desktop environment. Hitting the same keyboard button, previously F12, would hide the dashboard and bring back the OS X desktop.

The dashboard was tweaked over the intervening years, and in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, received a design overhaul that gave the feature its own dedicated "space." Also changed is the way users interact with the widgets, with the system taking on a more "iOS" style of management that brings up a widget selection page, while deactivation is accomplished by simply clicking on an iOS-style "x" button. Also changed is the trigger mechanism, with the multitouch trackpad allowing a three-finger gesture to sweep the dashboard into view.

Fly-Out animation
Three-page illustration of "fly-out" animation seen when closing dashboard.


Widgets themselves can be stacked on top of each other, or laid out in almost any fashion, and can run multiple versions of themselves within a given dashboard. For example, five clock widgets can be opened to keep track of time in five time zones.

Because widgets are basically HTML files, they are inherently representative of content seen on the web and can thus access web pages with the click of a button. In this way, the data within the widget is current, allowing for real-time events like alerts or alarms.

Also described in the patent filing is the installation of widgets, which can be seeded from a store, such as iTunes, or other digital repository. WebKit development is mentioned, as well as dashboard server and client, both of which go into detail regarding the backend coding environment and languages.

Widget Selection
Illustration of widget management bar.


As noted, Apple owns a number of widget-related patents, including certain widget security properties that caused some controversy with the World Wide Web Consortium as they were in direct opposition to the open, royalty-free widget standards.

While the small bite-sized programs have been maintained since Tiger, some are questioning their utility as development has shifted to more robust iOS apps. For now, widgets will remain in OS X, however, and Apple has not announced any future plans to kill off the feature in near-term iterations of its Mac operating system.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    japmjapm Posts: 36member
    Konfabulator did the exact same thing years before Apple.....I don't get it.
    They are the real innovators on widgets.
  • Reply 2 of 22
    I never use the widget view on my Mac. It surprises me that android adopted widgets and not iOS.
  • Reply 3 of 22

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ifij775 View Post



    I never use the widget view on my Mac. It surprises me that android adopted widgets and not iOS.




    i think dashboard is the reason there are no widgets on iOS. they are a resource hog, battery suck, and are not widely used. you said yourself that you never used it.


    i was all for it back in the day. i had konfabulator running on my mac & when tiger came out i used dashboard on a regular basis. as time went on i started using it less and less. when i got a new mac, i didn't even bother to set it up.


    i know people who still use it, but i think it's a small percentage of mac users.


     


    maybe i'm wrong though. maybe iOS 7 will bring more widgets. i've always felt that the spotlight screen would be the perfect place for widgets. they would disappear as you started a search. apple seems to think the notification tray is a better place, but i disagree.

  • Reply 4 of 22
    been using widgets in Linux for ages now. Another useless patent to clog the system
  • Reply 5 of 22
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,991member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by japm View Post



    Konfabulator did the exact same thing years before Apple.....I don't get it.

    They are the real innovators on widgets.


     


    Konfabulator used JavaScript with a separate run time environment for each widget (which explains the memory usage mentioned in a previous post), Apple's widgets are based on WebKit and can use the full power of OSX, basically they are small "webpages". 


     


    They have their roots in desk accessories as seen on the Macintosh in 1984. and worked on since at least 1981, way before Konfabulator, Mozilla or Linux even existed.


     


     


    image

  • Reply 6 of 22
    geekdadgeekdad Posts: 1,131member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by petrosy View Post



    been using widgets in Linux for ages now. Another useless patent to clog the system


    Something else for Apple to sue someone over. I thought there was a free license for widgets? Maybe they will be incorporated into the next OSX updates...kinda like tiles in Windows 8.

  • Reply 7 of 22
    froodfrood Posts: 771member
    As a side effect, Apple now holds the patent on Monkeys.
  • Reply 8 of 22


    I have had widgets for decades now. They are simply open apps on monitor 2.


     


    A widget is an open app that do not take all the real estate and something most of us have surely done for years.


    The fact that Apple chooses to 'always' apply the web to theirs is quite irrelevant.

  • Reply 9 of 22
    mrstepmrstep Posts: 446member
    They weren't the first with widgets, and essentially placing them on another virtual desktop (which also existed before) doesn't seem like it would be patentable either. There's protecting legitimate IP and then there's stifling innovation, and the line between them seems to be nonexistent at this point. I generally love my Apple products, but man is the patent system screwed up.

    (Given that this kind of patent will be granted, it makes sense for Apple to try and grab it before someone else does... And 'first to file' is just going to make this whole thing even more ridiculous now. :/ Legitimate IP in software really shouldn't even have a lifespan of more than 3-5 years, particularly when patents like "a method to iterate a block of code using variable integer values _on a mobile device_" seem to be granted as novel.)
  • Reply 10 of 22


    Originally Posted by Frood View Post

    As a side effect, Apple now holds the patent on Monkeys.


     


    They're too busy suing to put anybody down.

  • Reply 11 of 22
    mrstepmrstep Posts: 446member


    "Starting with user interactivity, the property calls for a dashboard that holds a plurality of widgets, which can be rearranged and resized depending on content or preference."


     


    Moveable / resizeable windows? Stackable!? Multiple instances of the same app (uh, I mean Widget!) open at the same time? Really!? Widgets that can do different things? And I thought one side-effect of the Oracle-Google Java suit was that APIs can't be patented, so mentioning that there's an API to do this is irrelevant. Jesus. :/

  • Reply 12 of 22
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member


    Silly patent, I feel, but people arguing about it didn’t read the article.


     


    it’s NOT a patent covering widgets in general, so discussion of widgets in general is irrelevant. Discuss the specifics that Apple IS patenting instead.

  • Reply 13 of 22
    How the hell can Apple patent this? It existed prior to the application.
    There is a lot of examples of people discussing Konfabulator & other similar systems%u2026
    http://arstechnica.com/apple/2005/04/macosx-10-4/17/

    How did the issue with the W3C widget standard go? Is this a case of Apple claiming work from another party & using it to block the creation of standards?
    It's hardly a key feature of Mac OS & Apple are taking there time about putting it into iOS, why are you being so greedy Apple?

  • Reply 14 of 22
    [SIZE=3]If my count is accurate Apple has now been granted [B]1172[/B] patents for the year 2012. We might break 1300 patents which will be by a wide margin the largest number of patents ever for the company.[/SIZE]

    P.S. I'm running FireFox 17 and this comment, ``The rich text editor is not compatible with your browser. You may see some HTML source displayed. Any BBCode you enter will be converted to HTML when you save.'' should be checked on as this browser is most certainly capable of running this little widget.
  • Reply 15 of 22
    droid wrote: »
    How the hell can Apple patent this? It existed prior to the application.
    There is a lot of examples of people discussing Konfabulator & other similar systems%u2026
    http://arstechnica.com/apple/2005/04/macosx-10-4/17/
    How did the issue with the W3C widget standard go? Is this a case of Apple claiming work from another party & using it to block the creation of standards?
    It's hardly a key feature of Mac OS & Apple are taking there time about putting it into iOS, why are you being so greedy Apple?

    You realize Apple's work goes back to 1981, right? Or that WebKit is Apple's right? Or the unique implementation with OS X/WebKit layer is the scope of this patent, right?
  • Reply 16 of 22


    Someone even took time to make a timeline. Click on the calendar and drag right. 


     


    http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog-asides/timelines/widgets/

  • Reply 17 of 22

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by japm View Post



    Konfabulator did the exact same thing years before Apple.....I don't get it.

    They are the real innovators on widgets.


    They may look a bit similar, but that is on the surface.


     


    Great piece of an article by John Siracusa:


    http://arstechnica.com/apple/2005/04/macosx-10-4/17/

  • Reply 18 of 22



    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mdriftmeyer View Post



    You realize Apple's work goes back to 1981, right? Or that WebKit is Apple's right? Or the unique implementation with OS X/WebKit layer is the scope of this patent, right?


     


    The scope isn't clear to me. The description & summary could be describing Konfabulator or various other tools that overlay data on screen.


     


    I have no qualms about Apple owning their own implementation of Dashboard.app, but isn't this broader?


    e.g. Could Apple claim KDE's Dashboard & Widgets infringe their IP and have it stopped? 

  • Reply 19 of 22


    It depresses me thinking what percentage of the spending of technology firms gets sucked into legal fees grappling with the broken patent system. Without it, I imagine a Mac would cost about a third, knowing how much lawyers charge.

     

  • Reply 20 of 22
    Does Apple even care about Widgets and Dashbaord anymore?

    I use them almost everyday for a quick check of the weather forecast or to convert some unit to another but it seems like everyone else has forgotten about them.

    Now Apple has jacked up Java on the Mac so that killed two of the Widgets I was using. I'm too lazy to deal with getting Java working properly again.
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