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Apple's universal remote concept hints at future television set

post #1 of 41
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Apple has shown interest in building a new, simplified remote control that would automatically control a variety of devices while reducing setup and frustration for the user.

The concept was revealed this week in a new patent application discovered by AppleInsider. Entitled "Apparatus and Method to Facilitate Universal Remote Control," it describes a touchscreen-based controller that would reduce the confusing clutter found on current universal remotes.

The filing notes that current remotes have a large number of buttons and switches to control the functions of a device, and while those buttons are necessary to control all of the functions, the average user typically only uses a handful of the buttons.

"The controls that are not normally used clutter the remote control and can cause confusion to the user when trying to locate a seldom-used feature," the filing notes.

It also details how current universal remotes are even more complex to operate than the basic remotes that ship with specific devices, like a television set or receiver. And often times, those universal remotes cannot replicate some of the tasks found on the original remote.

"Hence, users must spend time learning a new remote control or programming an existing universal remote each time they purchase a new remotely controllable appliance, which detracts from the enjoyment of using the appliance after it is first purchased," Apple's application states. "What is needed is an apparatus and a method to provide remote control over multiple appliances without the difficulties described above."

Apple's proposed solution is a remote control with a dynamic touchscreen used for input. The remote would include a "discovery mechanism" that would discover available appliances for it to control, negating the need for users to enter complex codes and program individual devices.




The filing describes a remote controlling one or more of a television, video players, a stereo, a "smart home" control system, and even a Mac. The document notes that the controller could also be used beyond electronic appliances, and could control programs and functions on a computer, like allowing a user to play songs on iTunes on their Mac or PC.

Apple's solution would simplify the user interface by having devices wirelessly transmit a specific interface for that device. The remote would receive this customized button layout, and dynamically present input options to the user without the clutter of a typical button-based universal remote.

The remote would also detect which appliances are within range of the controller. If, for example, a specific appliance could not be detected, the remote would gray that option out so the user would know it is not available.

The proposed invention, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed in September of 2011. It is credited to Albert Vidal.




the application is particularly noteworthy as rumors of a full-fledged Apple television set have gained considerable steam since the release of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs late last year. Jobs told his biographer that he had "cracked" the concept for a television set with "the simplest user interface you could imagine."

Various reports have suggested that Apple's television could be controlled through Siri, Apple's voice recognition and personal assistant software currently found on the iPhone 4S. But at times when voice control would not be ideal, Apple could also allow a back-up remote much like the one described in the newly unveiled patent application.

Another patent application detailed earlier this month by AppleInsider also offered a glimpse of how Apple could produce superior picture quality with advanced backlighting technology. The proposed invention is similar to how current LED-backlit television sets offer "local dimming," which allows dark images on the screen to display truer blacks and more accurate colors.
post #2 of 41
Like the Harmony Remotes , but on a touchscreen with some form of device detection?

Harmony Link does a lot of this now.
post #3 of 41
This is *obviously* an ancient patent they're just putting in now in order to enlarge their quiver. Seriously, "video tape player"??

There is no effective way to do discovery. All methods have obvious and very real failure modes.
post #4 of 41
This sounds kind of exactly like apple's "Remote" app running on an iPad touch. Except that it can't control any IR devices.
post #5 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomhayes View Post

Like the Harmony Remotes , but on a touchscreen with some form of device detection?

Harmony Link does a lot of this now.

Not quite. Harmony doesn't use a lot of screen real estate nor do they have the broad touch interface experience.
post #6 of 41
This is not really a new patent application but a continuation of the original 2002 patent.
post #7 of 41
This looks like a means of embedding Apple's iPhone/iPad products within the broader "watching and recording television" product area.

I would suggest that it seems more likely Apple will seek to enlarge their iOS ecosystem into the television product arena, rather than jump into this area with a discrete, stand-alone product (the iPhone was originally pitched as an extension of the iPod/iTunes experience).

So this patent suggests that the way of controlling the Apple Television that Steve said he'd "cracked" may involve the iPhone or iPad...

[BTW, it seems to me that the reference to video tape may be a way for Apple to indicate functionality without giving away their true intentions.]
post #8 of 41
This is where AMOLED could come in handy because the display could show mostly black even filled with buttons thus reducing power usage.

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post #9 of 41
This is all very nice, but I don't see the point of a touch screen remote without tactile feedback. This is the same problem for keyboards - you'll need to constantly look at them in order to hit the right button.
I use several remote apps on my iPod touch, and this limitation is inherent; very inconvenient when you want to change some visual settings while looking at the picture on the screen and not the remote.

I've seen one feature that tries to confront this problem (I think on the Boxee app or XBMC profile in HippoeReomte) by using the whole touch surface as one control with finger gestures.
post #10 of 41
It's an iPad.
post #11 of 41
Apple reinvents the VCR.
post #12 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by guycarmeli View Post

This is all very nice, but I don't see the point of a touch screen remote without tactile feedback.

Large buttons make it unnecessary.

Quote:
This is the same problem for keyboards - you'll need to constantly look at them in order to hit the right button.

I can touch-type on my iPad. I can very nearly touch-type on my iPhone. It's a non-issue.

Quote:
very inconvenient when you want to change some visual settings while looking at the picture on the screen and not the remote.

In my entire life, I've never had a SINGLE remote control that I could use to adjust visual settings without looking at the remote itself. First, no one remembers where those controls are. Second, how many remotes even HAVE dedicated controls for that?

Originally Posted by asdasd

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post #13 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

This is *obviously* an ancient patent they're just putting in now in order to enlarge their quiver. Seriously, "video tape player"??

There is no effective way to do discovery. All methods have obvious and very real failure modes.

Discovery is hard because these remote controlled devices do not transmit any type of signal. There should be a way that these devices can be put into a discovery mode like cellphones do when pairing a Bluetooth to it.
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"I got the answer by talking in my brain and I agreed of the answer my brain got" a 7 yr old explaining his math HW
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post #14 of 41
If the iPad had an IR sender, some app coder would have already done this.
post #15 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by guycarmeli View Post

This is all very nice, but I don't see the point of a touch screen remote without tactile feedback. This is the same problem for keyboards - you'll need to constantly look at them in order to hit the right button.
I use several remote apps on my iPod touch, and this limitation is inherent; very inconvenient when you want to change some visual settings while looking at the picture on the screen and not the remote.

I've seen one feature that tries to confront this problem (I think on the Boxee app or XBMC profile in HippoeReomte) by using the whole touch surface as one control with finger gestures.

In addition to Tallest Skil's comments, I will point out that programmable touch screen A/V control panels have been around 15+ years. While the earliest ones were mounted into a console and hardwired, it's definitely not a new concept.

There are ways of designing a touchscreen user interface where controlling a single variable (e.g., contrast) can be done fairly easily by not looking at the screen, yet still retaining the ability to adjust in minute amounts.

In any case, this does look like a very old idea that they are now adding to their patent quiver. Most Apple patents never see the light of day in a finished product on a store shelf.
post #16 of 41
No need for this universal remote when iTV will do it all.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of a rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of a rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #17 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

... There is no effective way to do discovery. All methods have obvious and very real failure modes.

This is the first thing I thought also.

This invention makes no sense at all unless Apple is going to get into the business of manufacturing all the devices like TV's DVD players etc. It goes back to the problem that almost no electronic gear is actually wirelessly aware of anything. The majority of remote control solutions in the market place are IR not bluetooth or WiFi, and even if they were capable, they'd still have to adhere to some Apple standard of discovery.
post #18 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

... I can touch-type on my iPad. I can very nearly touch-type on my iPhone. It's a non-issue. ...

As you probably know, I generally agree with most of your comments, but I find this really quite dubious.

Touch-typing on a sub-sized, non-standard, non-tactile keyboard????

methinks you are redefining "touch-typing" a bit here.
post #19 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomhayes View Post

Like the Harmony Remotes , but on a touchscreen with some form of device detection?

Harmony Link does a lot of this now.

Harmony devices are the perfect example of things people think are good, but look primitive once Apple shows how to do it right.
I've owned Harmony remotes for years, and while they're better than most others, they're still pretty terrible.
post #20 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

This is *obviously* an ancient patent they're just putting in now in order to enlarge their quiver. Seriously, "video tape player"??

There are some folks that still have and use video tapes. Old home movies are one example. So why not include that in the list alongside the DVD player etc
post #21 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

Touch-typing on a sub-sized, non-standard, non-tactile keyboard

I see folks do it all the time. It's just muscle memory, autocorrecting and substitutions at work.
post #22 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

As you probably know, I generally agree with most of your comments, but I find this really quite dubious.

Touch-typing on a sub-sized, non-standard, non-tactile keyboard????

methinks you are redefining "touch-typing" a bit here.

"Not looking at my hands when I type" is how I define it. The iPhone is really hard to do; I've had mine since Day One and still don't trust myself to it.

But the iPad is cake.

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post #23 of 41
I have no issues "touch-typing" as we are calling it here either, on the iPad and mostly on the iPhone too. Thanks to autocorrect and muscle memory, you can type like a madman, almost but not quite as fast as a physical keyboard. It didn't used to be the case for me with the iPad 1, as it seemed to be too slow for the keyboard to keep up with my speed, but the iPad 2 handles it just fine without any delay.
post #24 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by cvaldes1831 View Post

In addition to Tallest Skil's comments, I will point out that programmable touch screen A/V control panels have been around 15+ years. While the earliest ones were mounted into a console and hardwired, it's definitely not a new concept.

There are ways of designing a touchscreen user interface where controlling a single variable (e.g., contrast) can be done fairly easily by not looking at the screen, yet still retaining the ability to adjust in minute amounts.

In any case, this does look like a very old idea that they are now adding to their patent quiver. Most Apple patents never see the light of day in a finished product on a store shelf.

And all the universal remotes out there that I've seen completely suck whether they are devices or apps. The tookits to customize the UI or the programming to read buttons from other remotes are incredibly obtuse and require far too much work or they have technical issues or you have to purchase too many separate additional IR boxes. Just go the tech forums where people discuss remotes and read the posts about the technical issues people have and the posts from people who have spent an absurd amount of hours customizing their remote. This is the kind of thing that Apple excels at.

Some of the remote applications supplied by the manufacturers (Sony, Pioneer, etc.) are actually pretty good, but it's a pain to keep switching from app to app. And since it's done over the network rather than IR, you generally can't turn devices on, only off.

Some of my remotes are semi-universal, but there's still problems. If I forget to hit the "STB" button on my TV remote before I change channels, it resets the TV to use the over-the-air antenna input instead of the cable box. The TV remote has a lot of functionality, but it's not programmable and it's lacking the "Favorites" button that my cable remote has. My Pioneer receiver remote is a complete disaster. It's backlit, but it only backlights the buttons, not the labels, so you can't see anything in the dark.

My concern about an Apple app/device is that in an attempt to simplify, they'll remove a lot of functionality. But if I have to go back to the device's original physical remote to accomplish something, then the Apple app/device is worthless, so there has to be a way to get all the functionality in there for those who want it, but still make it usable. Auto discovery is a good first step. If it's a device rather than an app, they can build IR in. If it's not a device, perhaps they can build IR into future versions of Apple TV that would control all the other devices. The last thing I want is more boxes.
post #25 of 41
It would be easy for Apple to apply the same concept of their Remote App to the current remote wand but using a smooth magic-touch interface like the magic mouse. And clicking the entire surface would be the select button.
And because of the simplicity they could easily add an IR sensor (and throw in Bluetooth too); that would give it the ability to recognize a wide range of devices. Siri would live on the Apple TV for voice navigation and the wand would only need to serve as the external microphone.

The big question I have is would they decide to finally include volume control?
post #26 of 41

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post #27 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

This is *obviously* an ancient patent they're just putting in now in order to enlarge their quiver. Seriously, "video tape player"??

There is no effective way to do discovery. All methods have obvious and very real failure modes.

And Video Disk Player ? Not DVD, Video Disks went out of business when ? early 80s ?

By the way, it is just me or the idea of voice controlling a TV is strange, considering that TV talk all the time ?
What about an actor saying "Shut me off" ?

Bappo
post #28 of 41
i think this is particularly interesting given that Woz was the inventor of the first ever universal remote control.

Add voice control via (something like) Siri and I think that's what will 'crack' it.
post #29 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by bappo View Post

And Video Disk Player ? Not DVD, Video Disks went out of business when ? early 80s ?

By the way, it is just me or the idea of voice controlling a TV is strange, considering that TV talk all the time ?
What about an actor saying "Shut me off" ?

Bappo

good point, but I expect a button would/could be held while controlling via voice, which would duck the audio during commands.
post #30 of 41
Doesn't matter what this is. Some Microsoftie will blog about how Microsoft had this in WP7 since last year, and how they need to do a better job marketing it.

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post #31 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

As you probably know, I generally agree with most of your comments, but I find this really quite dubious.

Touch-typing on a sub-sized, non-standard, non-tactile keyboard????

methinks you are redefining "touch-typing" a bit here.

I can type 27 words per minute with 97% accuracy without auto correct with my thumbs on my IPhone, tested using the TapTyping app. I don't look at my thumbs when typing.

Here is a video of a guy doing 81 words per minute.
post #32 of 41
This is what connected TV should REALLY mean. Every component should be aware of every other component around it. My blue ray should stream to my iPad. My pad should change the cable channel. My phone should be able to set my OTA DVR.
post #33 of 41
Apple won't ever release this.

Touch screen remotes are horrible.
post #34 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by asterion View Post

This looks like a means of embedding Apple's iPhone/iPad products within the broader "watching and recording television" product area.

I would suggest that it seems more likely Apple will seek to enlarge their iOS ecosystem into the television product arena, rather than jump into this area with a discrete, stand-alone product (the iPhone was originally pitched as an extension of the iPod/iTunes experience).

So this patent suggests that the way of controlling the Apple Television that Steve said he'd "cracked" may involve the iPhone or iPad...

[BTW, it seems to me that the reference to video tape may be a way for Apple to indicate functionality without giving away their true intentions.]

In the main, I agree. Let me say at the outset that there are currently numerous virtual remote control apps available on the iTunes App Store. Among these is a Goggle TV virtual remote control app so that you may use your iPhone to control your Goggle TV.

Elsewhere on the AppleInsider.com Forum, I expressed my opinion that an iOS-based universal remote control would have capabilities that would dramatically improve the home entertainment experience. The rumored Apple HDTV could be the hub of the home entertainment center. iOS would give it the ability to establish two-way communication with its iOS-based remote control. I had seen two-way communication as a way to pair the TV with its remote control and to ensure that, in a world where everyone owns an iPhone, that only iOS devices of your chosing control your Apple HDTV. Auto-discovery features is logical extra benefit.

Auto-discovery is impossible with current home entertainment components. However, iOS would make it much easier to acquire the proper virtual remote control app. Unlike Logitech's Harmony, you would not need to connect your iOS universal remote to your computer to download the app. You may download directly to the device.

Although the Apple universal remote would work best if all components were Apple products, it is not necessary for the Apple universal remote to dramatically improve the user experience. Consider the case where the Apple HDTV is able to transmit thumbnail video from all connected sources to the remote. Rather than displaying just a channel number, network logo, or component type on the remote, you have the option of displaying a thumb nail of each current program.

Perhaps, those who fear the loss of "touch-type" operation of their remote would not mind looking at their remotes if there were something to see on them.
post #35 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

This is *obviously* an ancient patent they're just putting in now in order to enlarge their quiver. Seriously, "video tape player"??

There is no effective way to do discovery. All methods have obvious and very real failure modes.

If you read the patent, it suggests that the controlled devices may support discovery and may also communicate status in real time. So there might be an AirTalk (my term) protocol whereby a device responds to a request for its ID, so the app can look up the control commands. But it can also include the user entering the device to be controlled.

A more sophisticated device can send its user interface as HTML or XML. This might include the name of the media, whether it is playing or paused, and what point it is at in the playback. This takes it beyond what 'smart remotes' can do today. Those remotes don't get feedback from the devices so they can't display volume level, etc.
post #36 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by No2AreAlike View Post

If you read the patent, it suggests that the controlled devices may support discovery and may also communicate status in real time. So there might be an AirTalk (my term) protocol whereby a device responds to a request for its ID, so the app can look up the control commands. But it can also include the user entering the device to be controlled.

A more sophisticated device can send its user interface as HTML or XML. This might include the name of the media, whether it is playing or paused, and what point it is at in the playback. This takes it beyond what 'smart remotes' can do today. Those remotes don't get feedback from the devices so they can't display volume level, etc.

You are thinking along the same lines as I. In order to make this work, Apple could license "AirTalk" as open source making it available to all consumer electronic manufacturers. There are several members of this forum who warn against assuming that Apple's TV play is a TV set. I believe that an AirTalk-type universal remote control would go farther toward improving the user experience than would an Apple HDTV.
post #37 of 41
LG have brought out a remote similar to what I would have expected from Apple:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a38T3MBC78I

They even called it the Magic Remote. Wii-like wand for movement linked with voice input for browsing and posting online.

It's missing multi-touch though for momentum scrolling and zooming and still has a cursor.
post #38 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

LG have brought out a remote similar to what I would have expected from Apple:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a38T3MBC78I

They even called it the Magic Remote. Wii-like wand for movement linked with voice input for browsing and posting online.

It's missing multi-touch though for momentum scrolling and zooming and still has a cursor.

That's the best remote/TV for Internet implementation I've seen.

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post #39 of 41
I don't see a 'lost remote' feature. Now that would be useful.
The amount of time my wife or kids forget where they put the remote is ridiculous and even worse its not even grounds for divorce if they do!
post #40 of 41
I think when Steve said he cracked this tv thing, he was talking about when he threw his apple remote at his tv!! Next rumor please.
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