5 Uses of Apple's New Social Cover Flow Patent

If you’re a fan of Apple’s 3D-visual “cover flow” method of browsing computer files, then you might be happy to know that a US patent was published for a similar method of browsing social network contacts on an iPhone. The coverflow ability already exists for viewing album covers in iTunes on all platforms, including iPhones and iPod Touches. It also exists on Mac computers in the Finder app, for viewing documents, images, and videos.

The title and abstract in the patent filing are very generic-sounding, however the diagrams and Patently Apple’s interpretation suggest that the interface described is a “social cover flow” ability for mobile devices — presumably including iPad, as well as the suggested iPhone and iPod Touch (as per the patent diagrams).

diagram: Apple patent, social cover flow browsing

5 Uses of the ‘Social Cover Flow’ Patent

The following ideas are speculation based on the patent diagrams and description, as well as Patently Apple’s input. The assumption here is that Apple will provide 3rd-party developers the ability, in the form of API methods in future editions of iPhone SDK, to integrate the social cover flow functionality into their social networking apps. The patent points out that the coverflow ability is enabled only when the device (in this case an iPhone or iPod Touch) is rotated into landscape mode. However, the iPad should be able to offer this feature without device rotation.

  1. Browsing contact profiles. (This is the default example in the patent description.) Visually browse through a set of your social network contact profiles, including profile photos and contact information. Select a profile, then do some followup action.
  2. People search browsing. You’re looking for some long-lost friends on your favorite social network and you only remember first names, but think you would recognize them from their profile pic. Social cover flow would let you visually browse through a set of profile pics generated from a people search. Presumably, the profile images are larger than the thumbnails you might see in current people search interfaces, such as on Facebook.
  3. Social network photo browsing. Visually browse photos on a social network in a way similar to that of the Mac Finder app, when looking through photos, but with added features: (1) icons or info related to comments and ‘likes’; (2) selection of images from either your albums or friends’ albums (that you have access to), or both. This could be very useful to see what recent pictures you’ve been tagged in (as per Facebook photo tagging), after a night of partying and too many friends with digital cameras.
  4. Social network group browsing. Visually browse an aggregated list of Groups/ Fan Pages that your friend network are collectively members in, or that you are a member of. In this case, social cover flow might display Page logo and summary information, including name, number of members, name of administrator. There’s also the potential for tying this into the ability to then let the user browse all members profiles, as per uses #1 and #2 above.
  5. iGroups ad hoc profile browsing. This is similar to uses #1 and #2 above, but in conjunction with Apple’s recent iGroups mobile patent, social cover flow could let you visually browse profiles of people who have joined an ad hoc, location-triggered social network.

With Facebook usage on the iPhone increasing, could having this “social cover flow” ability patented ensure that the mobile social networking experience is going to be much better on Apple devices, thus enticing consumers that might otherwise choose other manufacturers smartphones? What do you think? Do you use mobile social networking apps? Would you use social cover flow features on a smartphone?