Friday, January 27, 2012

Will Apple’s TV Have a Super-Smart Touchscreen Remote?

It could be the most direct evidence so far that Apple is developing a television set: the company filed for a patent on a new kind of touchscreen remote control last September, according to a report.

The patent, made public Thursday and first reported by Apple Insider, would create a simpler remote in two ways. First, it would only show controls that are relevant or used frequently, hiding the others. Second, it would automatically detect and configure itself to control the devices in a user’s home.

The patent makes a lot of sense in the context of the recent discussion of a real Apple TV. After Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs revealed that Apple was developing a TV set, many suspected the user interface might use Siri, the voice assistant found in the iPhone 4S. Then came rumors of screen sizes and gesture controls.

The entire remote concept sounds very Apple, and the patent application’s accusation that many buttons on today’s remote controls are “clutter” and “can cause confusion to the user when trying to locate a seldom-used feature” certainly rings true.

However, one of the aspects of button-based remote controls that many users appreciate is their feel. On a remote with hard buttons, it’s very easy to locate the right button without even looking at the remote, just by touch. A remote control that’s all touchscreen would mean the user would have to look down to operate it, taking attention away from the screen.

Nonetheless, manufacturers have brought remote controls with touch screens to market before — for example, the Logitech Harmony 1000 — though those are usually supplemented with several hard buttons, and not many were successes.

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