At the end of last week a new Google patent appeared at the US Patent and Trademark Office, which shows a touchscreen radial menu that Google may have been working on for Android. The menu may seem somewhat familiar to Paranoid Android and CyanogenMod users, as it bears a few resemblances to PIE controls. Interestingly, Google filed for this radial menu patent all the way back in Q3 2012.
So radial menus aren’t particularly new, even for Google. The old stock Android 3.0 web browser for tablets arrived with pie-like controls, and the feature is also tucked away as an experimental option in the AOSP browser. Google also replaced its stock camera app with a semi-circle menu system back in Android 4.3, and used a full circle system for the Android 4.2 camera app. Samsung has also been experimenting with similar features, with its Air Command feature for the Galaxy Note 3.
So what’s so different about Google’s menu? Well, for a start the design is split into different segments, each of which controls a different set of options. Once activated, each segment then splits down into further options for the user to select.
The patent describes this as a three stage process. The first stage involves “pinching out” from a point using two fingers to create a menu which looks very similar to PIE. From there users can select one of the options by dragging their finger further past the menu, which then opens up stage three where users can select the option they desire. It looks quite a lot like a combination of PIE and Google’s stock camera app. Simple enough on paper, but I’m not sure how well a two finger system would work on a smartphone.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Google patent a radial menu technology, back in the middle of 2012 Google patented a similar menu system. Before we get ahead of ourselves, patents don’t necessarily translate into actual pieces of software or products. There’s no indication that Google has any plans to put this menu into practice, at the moment, but you never know what Google is working on for future Android releases.