Maemo UI improvements blog.

September 13, 2009

Fremantle: Parallax Background

Filed under: Heavy UI improvements — Tags: — Andrew Zhilin @ 04:40

Hello everyone.

Today I’d like to show you my idea about Fremantle desktop behaviour. As you remember, now it has cool feature called “Panorama desktop” that allows you to scroll through 4 different desktops with a simple flick of the finger. That idea is not something extraordinary or brand new but it’s really useful.

As for visualizing, Nokia has wisely chosen Android style with it’s neat effect called parallax scrolling.

Parallax scrolling is a special scrolling technique in computer graphics, seen first in the 1982 arcade game Moon Patrol. In this pseudo-3D technique, background images move by the “camera” slower than foreground images, creating an illusion of depth in a 2D video game and adding to the immersion. The technique grew out of the multiplane camera technique used in traditional animation since the 1940s.

So, basically widgets are foreground objects and move a bit faster and background is, you know, background object and move slower.

For example I’ve made a small demo movie, that shows how it works (click image to view)


But since Android already uses it and we have a goal to showcase n900 incredible performance, I thought that it would be cool to add some more trickery to the background.

So, my proposal is to compose background (everything under applet’s plain) not with one plain with wall paper but with 2 or 3 and add each plain speed multiplier so the deeper it is the slower it moves. This would allow to make some incredible semi-interactive backgrounds without harming the performance (since each plain is just simple .png file, nothing serious). And if user wand to set up it’s own simple wallpaper – it will be applied to the front plain and it will work just fine.

We can go even deeper with ultimate eye-candies if we’ll add decoration layer above applet plain, that will provide cool feeling of third dimension.

Feel free to comment on this idea, or some other stuff. Thanks for reading.



  1. This sounds like a great example of eyecandy, non-intrusive and beautiful. This could be ported to Compiz, etc. as well. It’s a great idea.

    Comment by Nathan Nutter — September 13, 2009 @ 07:40

  2. That sounds like a really cool idea!

    Comment by Bas H. — September 13, 2009 @ 14:23

  3. Actually, this is how it already works. ;)

    Comment by timsamoff — September 13, 2009 @ 22:19

  4. Ah, wait… I skipped the part about having more than 2 layers. Yeah, that would be cool, but it would require the user to place items on different layers, right? Or, would there be multi-dimensional background layers that were setup automatically?

    Comment by timsamoff — September 13, 2009 @ 22:21

    • No, it won’t affect user any way. He’ll continue to arrange widgets in the same single layer. This is only for theme makers/ eye-candy lovers, so there will be multiple layers of background images instead of one. If user want simple wallpaper – it will be applied to the layer right below widget layer and it will hide all layers below it so it will look like ordinary desktop (like now).

      Comment by Andrew Zhilin — September 13, 2009 @ 23:08

      • Right. That’s what I thought you were getting at. That would be cool. And, we could design single “smaller” elements (like the forefront tree in your sample) to go in random spots over the background. Would be neat. :)

        Comment by timsamoff — September 13, 2009 @ 23:12

  5. It started making more sense when I realized that you meant “plane” when you wrote “plain”. ;)

    Love the mockup!

    Comment by Marius Gedminas — September 14, 2009 @ 01:48

    • Well, just checked the dictionary – both words are mathematical terms :) I think I should have just used “layer” :D

      Comment by Andrew Zhilin — September 14, 2009 @ 02:29

  6. Hi,
    I like the idea of having a animated background and really think the ultimate eyecandy will be having an animated background.
    Take for example the water splash as seen on N900 videos, it would really be nice to actually see the water flowing as an animation whenever one is flicking between desktops. Like an continous animation in the background that simply stops when you are not flicking and begins playing again when switching desktops. That was it would really give the idea of being “alive” even though this sounds a little creepy ;)


    Comment by chross — September 14, 2009 @ 10:43

  7. I think “using” this background before taking decisions is nice :) while it’s quite nice at the first usage, it tends to get really on the way. (always animated) but as a “gesture” only animation it will for sure looks better. For the linux users, using E17 you can use the animated layers background that does that to get the feeling of things moving while you’re doing something on top of it :)


    Comment by Marcelo Eduardo — September 14, 2009 @ 22:21

    • Yeah, non-stop animation will get too annoying (though I’m still meditating on my demo :D) so it’s gesture only action for sure.

      Comment by Andrew Zhilin — September 14, 2009 @ 23:41

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