Earlier this month the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Microsoft that revealed an all-new dial based user interface that could be utilized on devices ranging from Windows phones right through to desktops and beyond. Although the richness of their new concept would conceivably be better utilized on larger touch displays, Microsoft actually emphasizes smaller devices like a smartphone which offer less real estate. According to Microsoft, using sophisticated applications on a touch display must be able to use touch controls that go far beyond mere pinch and zoom and swipe gesturing.
Today's Mobile Interfaces are limiting
Today, there are challenges faced by implementing touch controls on smartphones and tablets due to their limited input real estate. These kinds of portable devices are in fact limiting user interactions to simple gestures such as pinches, swipes, flicks and the like which may not always be properly interpreted because a finger or fingers of a user losing contact with a touch-sensitive device due to space limitations or for other reasons.
Users often interact with physical switches or other controls using all available digits for added control, accuracy, and/or strength. For example, a human may use all five fingers of a hand to open a door knob, notwithstanding an ability to open a door knob with one or two fingers, due to an increased level of control and strength that may be gained by using all five fingers. As such, using more than two fingers to implement commands on touch-sensitive devices may be able to enhance a user's sense of control and precision.
Microsoft Introduces a New Mobile UI
Microsoft's invention reveals concepts and technologies relating to a new dial-based user interface for interacting with application programs, data, and/or external resources such as web pages, applications, and the like. The dial-based user interface can be configured with a number of soft buttons associated with various options, web or other resource addresses, categories or sub categories, sub menus and/or menus, combinations thereof, and the like.
The dial-based UIs are noted above in patent FIGS. 3A and 3B are configured to provide functionality for selecting or de-selecting functionality and/or adjusting values or settings associated with various controls. In one contemplated embodiment, a soft button is presented on the dial-based UIs to adjust a numeric value such as a brightness setting, a volume, an age, or any other value that can be adjusted through or across a numerical range.
The dial-based menu interface 300B adds a feature known as the "focus," which can be used to indicate to a user that the menu option corresponding to the soft button 302G currently has "focus." This particular feature sounds like the traditional mouse equivalent to the "right click" to access sub-menu options.
In Microsoft's patent FIGS. 3G-3M, the user device presents a scale that can be rotated by a user via a user interface device such as a mouse, stylus, or other device, via touch and/or multi-touch gestures on a touch-sensitive display, via voice commands, keystroke commands, and/or gestures in free space, and/or via other input.
In one design a user will be able to tap on the needle as illustrated in Patent FIG. 3G's patent point #312 and drag the needle until it points to a desired value on a scale that is arranged radially around the dial-based menu interface 300G to control things like volume, brightness or other measurement related items or controls.
Random Notes from Microsoft's Patent Filing
dial-based UIs can include dial-based menus, soft buttons, and/or other types of interfaces for controlling various functionality of the application programs, for interacting with the data and/or for interacting with or controlling other applications or resources.
The touch inputs can include touch and drag gestures, multi-touch and rotate gestures, touch, slide, and drag gestures, and/or pivot and rotate gestures. The new pivot-and-rotate gesture can be used for precision rotation of the dial-based UIs. This approach to precision rotation of the dial-based UIs can be useful, on devices that have a limited real estate.
In other implementations involving larger displays, the dial-based UIs can be configured to present one or more dial-based menus. Users will be able to interact with the one or more dial-based menus simultaneously. In another design, the user device displays two dial-based menus that are configured for simultaneous control by two hands of a user
Microsoft states that they utilize any number of touch related technologies such as a resistive touchscreen, a capacitive touchscreen, a surface acoustic wave touchscreen, an infrared touchscreen, an optical imaging touchscreen, a dispersive signal touchscreen, acoustic pulse recognition touchscreen or any other touchscreen technology.
Microsoft filed their patent application under serial number 303140 back in Q4 2011. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Others Working on Similar GUI Projects
Ideas for new user interfaces in general and those involving radial styled interfaces or controls have been in the works from many in the industry. Apple has already filed for patents relating to radial menus as well as those involving spirals.
Another example of a radial styled UI involves the Paranoid Android 3 which is an interesting re-imagination/hack of Google's Android 4.2.X (Jelly Bean) for Nexus 4, 7, and 10.
And lastly, there's the Lenovo IdeaCentre 27" Table PC which uses a radial UI. This is the most interesting in context with today's patent report because it's running on Windows. The question becomes, did Microsoft choose Lenovo to test out their new patent pending user interface as noted in this report or is it a Lenovo initiative that just happens to run on Windows.
While something tells me that Lenovo's IdeaCentre is using Microsoft's UI, that's yet to be confirmed. Either way, you can see that this is going to be one of the more popular user interfaces likely to emerge over the coming years on every device from smartphones to desktops and beyond.
Microsoft delivered an elementary version of the dial-based interface back in 2012 with the release of OneNote MX.
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