A patent application recently published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office earlier today reveals that Apple is looking with the idea of a universal touchscreen controller capable of controlling multiple devices including a “television, a video tape player, a video disk player, a stereo, a home control system, or a computer screen.” The patent application is titled “Apparatus and Method to Facilitate Universal Remote Control” and was filed September 30, 2011.

The patent discusses many of the issues with current controllers for televisions and the devices mentioned above. It noted that many of today’s universal remotes are “complex to operate” and unable to adapt to incorporate every command or control functionality supported by a device or future device. It also mentions the fact that often many users end up stuck with multiple remotes, which leads to the classic “table full of remotes” scenario described by Steve Jobs when talking about the Apple TV at D8. The patent application explained the following:

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While all of these buttons and switches are necessary for complete control of the appliance, users typically use only a small subset of the total controls on the remote control. 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.…users must spend time learning a new remote control or programming an existing universal remote control each time they purchase a new remotely controllable appliance, which detracts from the enjoyment of using the appliance after it is first purchased…What is needed is an apparatus and a method to provide remote control over multiple appliances without the difficulties described above.
Apple’s solution to the issues seems to include an automatic “discovery mechanism,” which would allow the remote to pair with other devices over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The patent describes being able to customize the user interface on the remote’s touchscreen without the universal remote control needing any “special knowledge” of the device. What this would lead to is graphical representations for any given device, such as layouts, being stored in the device and sent to the remote control wirelessly. The patent application also describes using the remote with multiple devices simultaneously through a list of “active appliances.”

The unique user interfaces sent from a device to the remote could also be customizable by the manufacturer of the device, hinting that the remote could control third-party appliances as well. It was noted by Apple that the user interface “can also display an icon such as the manufacturer’s logo, user instructions, or an advertising message on the remote control.”

The interesting thing here is the possibility of Apple experimenting with touchscreen remotes with adaptable user interfaces to interact with the rumored Apple television set. Many reports are claiming that the unveiled Apple television set will feature voice-control courtesy of a Siri-like functionality but there hasn’t been any mention of a universal remote. This seems to give users an elegant non-voice activated method to control not only the television set but other appliances as well through the use of a universal remote, which may end up being Apple’s iOS devices such as the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

We’ll just have to wait and see but this does leave us excited and expecting good things to come.

Source: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office