Mysterious Google Interface Design

Google was awarded a design patent today on an interesting looking interface, in a patent titled Display device showing user interface.

Design patents sometimes leave you guessing as to what it is that you are actually looking at, and they can appear somewhat unusual.

With two sliders, and what seems to be a circular area where different choices could be selected, this design from Google looks somewhat mysterious. Upon seeing it, I wondered if it were something from a phone:

Google interface design with sliders and circular selection area.

The Patent listed a number of references to other interfaces, which were also misleading. One was an electronic horoscope game from Mattel. Another was a watch dial from 1928. Three others were display icons for computer screens, like one from Apple Computer.

A little digging around provided an answer to how this is used. One of the inventors listed, Beth Ellyn O’Mullan, was a User Experience Design Lead on Google Earth at the time that the patent was filed.

She’s also one of the inventors listed on a patent application for an Embedded navigation interface. That describes how this interface is used in more detail. You can see it clearly in this Google Earth image shown in that patent application.

Google Earth image with interface design displayed in top right corner.

Ok, so it’s not something new from a “Google Phone.”

21 thoughts on “Mysterious Google Interface Design”

  1. Looks more like a map navigation system than a phone interface. Zoom sliders, maybe rotation and panning.

  2. Bill, that is mysterious. I agree with Peter. It looks like Maps navigation. Or, a fancy quilting pattern.


  3. Thanks!

    It did look pretty odd by itself in the Google design patent, with no indication of how it was used, and reference links to things like the mattel horoscope game.

    I’m glad I found the patent application that describes how it functions. It definitely is an interface for Google Earth, but you couldn’t tell that from the design patent that was granted.

  4. A transparent version of this would be a wonderful mouse tool, an idea I had a long time ago! Sliders are a pain, so maybe Google have a solution? And what a great solution for mobile surfing with a toggle mouse like that found on the Nokia E61!

  5. Nice! Reminds me of the interface from Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer.

  6. I think it will be a GPS navigation system that people can put in their car/ plane/phone etc.

    It makes sense to me from that perspective …

  7. The “controller” is actually pretty cool. I have used it on Google Earth.

  8. It is an interesting looking navigational aid for Google Earth.

    Interfaces for programs that people enjoy using can be difficult to make. It appears that this one is enjoyable.

  9. @ Rajat

    I think you could be right 😉 try downloading Google Maps for your mobile and you’re even closer!

  10. Google tends to lift things from others claiming its own!

    The new Google Favicon small “g”? Was lifted from my idea!


    Watch the small “g” I have it registered for over a year now!

  11. Hi Igor,

    It’s really unfathomable that Google decided to go lowercase. Makes no sense at all.

    Maybe they felt that it was less formal, and more friendly.

    I wonder if they conducted lots of user testing before making the decision.

    It sounds like they haven’t given you a kudos for the idea.

  12. I think when Hell freezes over I will get a Thank You from Google! lol

    But if you read the Merriam Webster dictionary for Google entry it says Google with a capital G is proprietary to Google and google with a small “g” is the verb to to do a Google search!

    I even had this discussion with Adam Lasnik in an email. Just makes me wonder?

  13. Found this looking for “google patents” Funny how looking back at googles implementations to only see how successful they are.

  14. Hi Matt,

    Some of the interfaces that Google has come up with are pretty fascinating. I’m actually a little surprised that we haven’t seen more games spring up involving Google Earth.

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