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Apple Considering Scrollable Menus and Toolbars For Lion and iOS 5?

A new European patent filing discovered by Patently Apple details how Apple might implement different interaction methods for menus and toolbars in the next version of OS X, Lion, and in the future iteration of their mobile operating system, iOS. The patent, filed in Q2 1010 and published last week, shows two specific models: scrollable menus and toolbars.

The main concept behind the patent is that menus and toolbars take too much space on screen, and the large majority of users don’t need to look at these elements all the time. To save space and implement multitouch gesture-based navigation in menus, there could be a way to scroll through toolbar icons and dropdown menus both on the desktop and iPhone / iPad.

To begin with, Apple states that their invention provides a novel method for presenting a menu in a graphical user interface. The menu includes several selectable menu items that are assigned in a particular order for scrolling through a selection window based on user input. In some embodiments, each of the menu items is associated with a command. When a menu item is in the selection window, a user could select the menu item in order to perform the command associated with the menu item.

The menu items may be displayed as standard text items in some embodiments (e.g., “File”, “Save”, “Print”, etc.) or may be displayed as icons (e.g., icons representing various tools, such as drawing tools, video editing tools, etc.).

As you can see in the screenshots above, the icon visualization of toolbar items looks particularly interesting. Instead of having fixed elements in every application, users could invoke a linear or semi-circular “menu” and scroll through icons to enable different functionalities. A linear visualization would admittedly make more sense on mobile devices, where real screen estate is limited. It sort of reminds me of Apple’s implementation of dropdown menus on webpages, which are automatically rendered in an iOS fashion on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

We previously reported about iOS scrolling system (rubber-banding) and deeper popover integration coming to OS X ahead of Apple’s “Back to the Mac” event in October. Such as complete reinvention of menus and toolbars would certainly be interesting to see on mobile (perhaps in iOS 5, as Patently Apple suggest), though I’m skeptical about Mac OS X 10.7 getting this kind of makeover. As seen in Back to the Mac’s Lion demo, the standard OS X menubar is still there, for instance.

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