The rows of folders you see in Windows Explorer may soon be replaced by interactive 3D cubes with contextual navigation aids to help you find files and applications judging by a recent patent filing from Microsoft that was published last week. The new scheme aims to address what Redmond perceives as a fundamental problem with the present arrangement.
A user currently has no way of knowing what’s coming up next when scrolling through a folder with a large number of items, which is troublesome in situations where searching for files by name isn’t feasible, like while looking through a photo album. Microsoft’s navigation cubes address that through the use of semi-transparent edges that preview items on adjacent faces.
In that example of browsing a photo album, you’ll be able to quickly flip through the different sides of the polygon thanks to customizable shortcuts that the patent applications says will allow you to instantly jump to specific locations. A double tap on one of the edges, for instance, would cause a cube to rotate twice in that direction, while pressing the Space bar might take you straight to the opposite side.
Where that functionality should come most useful is not for navigating cubes you populate yourself but rather the automatically-generated volumes that the filing reveals you’ll be able to make using a built-in labeling system capable of automatically fetching files in a specified category. That can include photos of a certain format, Word documents and even other cubes:
But for all that functionality, the scheme offers only a marginal improvement in usability over the current setup in Windows, if at all. That’s why it’s likely Microsoft isn’t planning to build the navigation cubes into its operating system but rather an entirely different platform where a three-dimensional file presentation would make a lot more sense: The HoloLens.
If that is indeed the case, then the fact the scheme supports a wide variety of formats including photos and documents would indicate that Redmond’s plans for the augmented reality headset far exceed the niche gaming applications we’ve been shown so far. That helps explain why Redmond anticipates to spend another five years on development while its competitors are racing each other to general availability.