Apple has filed a patent (number 8281244) with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for an user interface for media playback. It seems to involve potential changes to the iTunes interface.

The patent is for graphical user interface made up of icons representing individual files and collectively forming the shape of a spiral is described along with methods of using and creating the graphical user interface. The spiral interface is useful to display detailed information about many of the items in a list and facilitates manipulation of list order and selection of the active file in the list. The interface further permits the use of a representative icon associated with the list as a whole.

Here’s Apple’s background on the invention: “Even as computer processors are becoming faster and programs more capable, space on computer displays continues to be limited. As programs become more complex there is a need to display more information in the same limited space.

Displaying additional information is not the only challenge; program application developers are also challenged to present information in a visually appealing and easily useable way. Lists and icons have long been key elements in achieving these objectives, but while they represent simple ways to present information, they are not sufficiently appealing to consumers and fail to convey enough information to a user. Early lists using icons represented items in a list with a generic icon and a descriptive name, a file name. The generic icons conveyed very little information; usually they represented a filing folder in place of a directory folder and a file type for a file.

“Today, lists and icons have come further. Commonly, icons display information specific to a particular file, rather than a group of files opened by the same application. These icons are commonly referred to as representing a snap shot of the contents of the actual file. However, to fit the icons into a conventional list they must be very small. Therefore, while these icons are capable of displaying much more information than their predecessors, sometimes they fail to do even that because they are so small that it is difficult to discern any useful information at all.

“To solve this problem, new graphical user interfaces have been created which show lists with much larger icons. The tradeoff is that fewer items in the list are displayed. In one example, a list is displayed as a sort of Rolodex, as seen in FIG. 1. In this example the icons are sufficiently large so that they are easy to see and they successfully convey detailed information about the individual file, but the list as a whole displays less information.

“The interface allows a user to see detailed information about a selected file and some information about one to two files before and after the selected file. It does not display much, if any information about the other files in the list. Accordingly a method for displaying a list with a large number of icons of a sufficient size to be capable of conveying detailed information about each file and the list as a whole is needed.”

The inventors are Michael Neuman and William Martin Bachman.