The Patent Application
A patent application published today shows the possibility of Radial menus in Apple’s upcoming operating system.
The system would use radial gestures for opening sub-menus and could work on both iOS (with iOS5 or the iPhone 5, we presume) or even with OSX.
Here is the Abstract describing the function:
Some embodiments of the invention provide several novel techniques for manipulating radial menus in graphical user interfaces of an application. In some embodiments, radial menusinclude multiple selectable items arranged about an internal location (e.g., a center of the radial menu). The novel radial menu techniques of some embodiments include (i) non-uniform spacing of menu items, (ii) the use of shading or highlighting within a region associated with an item to indicate the present selectability of the item, and (iii) the use of radial gestures for opening sub-menus and the subsequent display of the sub-menu.
How it Can Work
The Patent application mentions these as an alternative to traditional drop down menus in which you will click on an item and have a window pop down to allow you to choose something in a sub-menu and so-on. The idea here is to minimize movement and precision need to take cursor down the menu:
Such drop-down menus are often located at the top of a window in which an application is running. Accessing drop-down menus via a cursor controller involves moving a cursor to the top of the window with the cursor control device, then moving along to the appropriate top level menu item, selecting a submenu (if necessary), etc. Using a cursor to select items on a linear pull-down menu requires a user to move the cursor by a particular distance down the menu to reach the desired menu item. This can require moving a cursor through a considerable distance and with considerable precision required to reach the desired menu item without going past it.
Radial menus can provide desired menu selections without the difficulties inherent in drop-down menus. However, there is minimal use as of yet of radial menus in popular computing applications. Accordingly, there is a need for radial menus with improved features that will make such menus more desirable for users.
How About on the iPhone?
The description above sounds okay, but we can actually see it being most useful for a device like the iPhone. For instance, while holding the phone with one hand and having to reach the your thumb across. If the radial menu allows the user to spin it, they can pull any item closer to their thumb.
But this can even translate into commands in OSX and other pieces of software within the operating system, such as iMovie:
This isn’t completely surprising. Apple has probably been thinking about this for a while already. That becomes more obvious when you keep in mind that they are bringing the App Store to Mac (Mac App Store) and with OSX Lion, they will be combining some of the features of OSX with the features of iOS.
No doubt they are looking for ways to use little tiles with icons rather than traditional menus. As harddrives become larger, and many start saving more stuff onto their computers, we are sure new menu items to manage and navigate through our data will come along.
As it is, we have already been dreaming of some of the features we would like to see for iOS5. Maybe radial menus can join the list. We know RIM is currently working with TAT to add their own innovations to mobile interfaces.