Apple patent hints at 'Spaces' coming to iPad

A 10-inch screen can be a productivity killer, which is why Apple may be working on a way to give users multiple work spaces using a similar feature to what it offers in Mac OS X with "Spaces."

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

A new Apple patent filing unearthed by Patently Apple points at an interesting prospect for productivity hounds on the iPad: bringing the multi-desktop "Spaces" feature found in Mac OS X to the realm of the touch-screen tablet.

Called "device, method, and graphical user interface for manipulating workspace views," the 2009 application, which went live on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's site yesterday, describes a device with a touch screen that has "a plurality of workspace views." When enabled, the idea is to let users jump around to their various screens with finger gestures, turning the 10-inch screen into a just a window of a larger work space.

The various toggles for surfing around these work spaces are described as gestures, including pinching in various parts of the screen as well as a five-finger tap and pinch.

Similar gestures appeared, and still grace the iPad in the form of a feature that had been made available to developers since an early beta of iOS 4.3. Apple had experimented with allowing users to not only jump back to the home screen with a five-finger pinch, but also pull up the multitasking bar with a four-fingered swipe, and even jump between open applications by swiping multiple fingers across the screen.

This functionality never made it to the build of iOS 4.3 that went out to users, though can still be enabled by marking the iPad as a development device within Apple's Xcode software. Some developers with applications that made use of multi-finger gestures complained that the feature could send finger-happy users skipping off to another application by mistake.

What's interesting about this patent is that it's not just single applications that are being described as taking up the whole view, it's full on desktop work spaces. Patently Apple suggests this is Apple considering bringing the full version of Mac OS X to a tablet, versus the company's iOS software based on the patent's image section alone, which depicts OS X screenshots in the examples.

The other curious tidbit to be gleaned from the application is that Apple is exploring gestures that can be assigned to specific parts of the screen. This adds an extra layer of complexity to what users need to learn, but extends some of the gestures used on tablets in a similar fashion to what the company has done on the multitouch trackpads found on MacBooks and with its Magic Trackpad accessory.

The important thing to point out here is that this is just a patent application, and is in no way a surefire bet that the company plans to bring the functionality to existing devices. Even so, it does give a hint at some of the additional things the company's Mac OS and iOS platforms can share with one another, something that's going to be of keen interest to users of both in the run-up to 10.7 Lion and the next major version of iOS, the latter of which is expected to be unveiled at Apple's WWDC event in June.