New Apple Patent Hints at Apple TV Plans

Source: Apple.com

A recently published Apple patent application revealed that the California-based company is still deeply interested in improving and expanding the capabilities of its Apple TV product. In a patent titled “Browsing Remote Content Using a Native User Interface” that was first spotted by Apple Insider, the company outlined a new type of app that will allow its mobile devices to offer features that will complement and augment content that is being viewed on a television screen. While Apple currently offers a Remote app that turns an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch into a remote control, the app outlined in this patent would offer capabilities that go far beyond simply allowing users to browse content from the comfort of their couch.

One of these features will be an improved mirroring capability. As stated in the patent description, “Unlike display mirroring techniques, the portable electronic device renders a native GUI [graphic user interface] specifically tailored to the device’s form factor according to imposition and layout rules stored on the portable electronic device.” In other words, the app won’t simply duplicate the television interface but will make adjustments based on the mobile device’s size, in the same way that website content is displayed differently on mobile devices than it is on a desktop computer.

However, the app won’t just offer improved mirroring capabilities alongside its traditional remote control functions. Some of the more revolutionary aspects of the remote app described in the patent are related to its interactive features, which it offers in both passive and active modes. Active functions will affect content being displayed on the television screen, while passive functions will allow users to operate their mobile devices as interactive second screens without disrupting the content being displayed on the TV.

Source: USPTO.gov

This interactive content can come from within the app or outside of it. While the app might offer content description data such as “a list of actors, a movie summary, a duration, movie rating, movie poster images, screenshots, etc.,” users can also visit external websites through their mobile devices and augment the displayed content on the television screen with the content they find at their discretion.

Although this app will be used exclusively for products in Apple’s ecosystem, it should be noted that the invention is capitalizing on a growing television viewing trend. A Nielsen survey conducted earlier this year found that 84 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their mobile devices as second screens while they are watching television.

“Consumers use second screens to deepen their engagement with what they’re watching, including activities such as looking up information about the characters and plot lines, or researching and purchasing products and services advertised,” said Nielsen. “One of the more popular second-screen activities is using social TV: roughly one million Americans turn to Twitter to discuss TV on an average day.”

Besides outlining an enhancement that may show up in the next-generation Apple TV, this patent also casts further doubt on the long-running rumors about an Apple television set. Since the app described in this patent is designed to work with the existing Apple TV product, it appears that Apple is more interested in expanding and improving the capabilities of its media streaming device, rather than entering the low-margin television set market.  

There have been multiple reports over the past year that also indicated Apple is focused on revamping the current Apple TV device, rather than unveiling a completely new television product. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was in negotiations with Comcast over the possibility of allowing Apple TV travel on a separate, less-congested part of the network.

More recently, The Information reported that the company had plans to create a unified, Internet-based television service that offers both live and on-demand programming. However, both plans apparently had to be shelved due to difficulties coming to an agreement with Comcast and the various content providers.

While it remains to be seen if Apple’s plans to turn its set-top box into a premium, full-fledged live television service will come to fruition, the recently published remote app patent shows that the company is still actively tinkering  with the highly successful product that Steve Jobs once famously called a “hobby.”

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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