Apple has been granted a patent (number 11500890) for “highlighting icons for search results.” The goal is to make it easier to view results following a search for items and preferences on a Mac, iPad, or iPhone.

About the patent

The patent involves user interfaces for presenting search results, and more particularly to techniques for highlighting icons associated with search results. Most computer operating systems provide controls that allow the user to specify settings for various preferences. These controls include text fields, sliders, radio buttons, check boxes, and the like. 

For example, a typical operating system such as macOS contains controls for specifying such preferences as: the length of time before a screen saver is activated; the speed with which the onscreen cursor moves in response to mouse input; the current date and time; the volume of the external speakers; and the like.

Typically, these controls are organized in a series of preference panes, which are collectively grouped under a title such as “System Preferences” or “Control Panels”. A user can access a control by clicking on an icon or menu command to activate System Preferences. In response, the system displays a window containing a number of icons, where each icon represents a preference pane that contains a set of controls related to a particular component or feature of the system.

However, Apple says that, as computers and operating systems become increasingly complex, the number of preference controls grows, as does the number of preference panes. As a result, users (particularly novice users) have a difficult time finding the particular control they are looking for. A user may know the general nature of the control he is looking for, but may not know which preference pane contains that control. 

For instance, continuing the above example, if the user is unfamiliar with the organizational scheme of the preference panes, he or she may not know where to look for the network password entry control. Searching among various preference panes and/or consulting printed or electronic documentation can be frustrating and time-consuming.

What’s more, when a new version of the operating system is released, it is common for controls to be moved from one pane to another, notes Apple. As a result users who are used to the previous version of the operation system may be unfamiliar with the new locations of controls.

Once a user has become familiar with the organizational scheme for the preference panes, he or she can more easily find a particular control when it is needed. Accordingly, Apple says it’s beneficial to have some mechanism for training the user as to the locations of various controls, without forcing the user to consult manuals or other documentation.

The tech giant says that what is needed is:

° A system and method for assisting a user in locating and accessing preference controls, even when the user is unfamiliar with the organizational scheme for the preference panes. 

° A system and method for training the user so that, over time, he or she becomes more familiar with the locations of various preference controls. 

° A system and method for assisting a user in locating other types of system resources, data, or the like.

Summary of the patent

Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent: “The present invention provides a search capability to allow a user to easily locate a preference control, file, folder, control, or other system resource or data item associated with a search result. In one embodiment, a user enters a search term (or a portion thereof) in a search field associated with one or more resource types that may be searched. The user may be presented with a pop-up menu containing a list of likely matches. 

“The user selects the desired preference control from the pop-up menu, and the corresponding preference pane, or other container, containing the selected data item, control, or other resource is displayed. In one aspect, as the user enters the search term (or portion thereof), certain icons are highlighted. Specifically, those icons that represent containers containing matching data items (such as preference panes having controls that match the search term) are highlighted. Different types of highlighting can be used depending on the degree of certainty as to which container is likely to contain the correct match.”

Article provided with permission from AppleWorld.Today