The unique circular menu found on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 could find its way to Apple’s Mac OS X and iOS in the future. Apple was granted a second patent on the radial menu interface on Tuesday; Patently Apple found and reported on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grant. It also noted the first such patent for a radial menu granted to Apple back in 2012, a full year prior to Samsung’s implementation on the Note 3.
Samsung calls the circular menu “Air Command” on the Galaxy Note 3. When you tap a button on the included stylus while hovering close to the phone’s display, the Air Command menu displays, showing various contextual options for using the pen such as taking a memo or capturing a screenshot that can be annotated with digital ink.
Apple’s patents on this menu style show a design that looks very similar to Samsung’s implementation, with one caveat: Samsung’s Air Command isn’t a complete circle of menu options, while Apple’s radial menu is a full 360 degrees.
While Samsung relies on its S-Pen to activate Air Command, Apple’s patent describes a different method for users to see and interact with a radial menu. It can appear at a specific location indicator, such as a mouse, or from some type of touch input. That would suggest a round menu interface could be used on Mac computers or Apple’s iPhone and iPad in a future version of iOS.
Given the historical litigation between Samsung and Apple, I’m curious to see if this particular patent will appear front and center in a courtroom down the line. Samsung is widely expected to debut the Galaxy Note 4 later this week, so it will be interesting if the device continues to use a radial menu, either as a partial or full circle. Sales of the Galaxy Note line have strengthened with each new model, so it would be in Apple’s best interest to blunt Samsung’s momentum, as it has attempted do with prior infringement suits.