Last week Apple's patent application for an advanced TV remote was a bit of a stunner and the news about Apple's future HDTV keeps hitting the news. Just yesterday we learned of the Foxconn-Sharp alliance that's key to ramping up HDTV production for Apple's TV in the future. The day before that we learned of Apple being granted a patent for multi-touch skins that could wrap around a future TV remote so that controls could reside on the front, back or sides. Today, a new patent application was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office that provides us with a little more information about their new remote. This time around Apple details the remote's "learning system" that will always keep it up to date with the latest features via iCloud. While it's not an earth shattering invention by itself, it's all part and parcel of Apple's basket of all things Apple TV. The more we learn about their future HDTV system through patents, the better we'll understand their grander vision. This very much reminds me of the ramp up of patents in 1996, the year prior to the iPhone's debut. The buzz and anticipation surrounding the iPhone was "heart-thumpingly-insane" and the late Steve Jobs simply hit it out of the park for us. Time will tell if Tim Cook and Phil Schiller can engineer that same kind of buzz for Apple's HDTV – but one thing is for sure: they're off to a great start.
Apple's Look at Today's Universal Remotes
Universal remote control devices can be programmed to emit command signals for controlling multiple controlled devices. To control the controlled devices, the universal remote controls may receive the control codes of a corresponding remote control device. The control codes may be embedded in the command signal emitted by the remote control device to control various controlled devices.
Typically, the control codes may be input manually by a user. This may require the user to have to look up the device (e.g., using manufacturer or model information) in a table of control codes, or try each code listed in the table until one works, which can be inefficient and time-consuming. Other universal remote controls may allow the user to download the control codes from a remote server. However, downloading the codes from the server may require an Internet connection and take a prolonged period of time.
What is needed is a way to program a programmable electronic device so that the device can "learn" a few control codes corresponding to selected commands, while having the ability to receive other control codes from a remote database on an as-needed basis.
About Apple's Remote Control Learning System
Apple's invention relates to a remote control device and methods for learning the command signals of a remote control device and teaching the command signals to a programmable electronic device. The programmable electronic device may learn the control codes of a remote control device that is configured to control one or more electronic devices. Some embodiments may include an infrared-sensitive camera that is configured to receive command signals from a remote control device.
Apple states that software will allow intermediary device 104, which represents a number of possible devices such as an iPhone, MacBook or iMac, to "teach" the control codes of the remote control device 102 to the programmable electronic device 106 noted above in Apple's schematic.
More particularly, the intermediary device may transmit the learned or downloadable command signals to the programmable electronic device that will store all or some of the control codes corresponding to the command signals on the storage device. After downloading the control codes, the programmable device may use the control codes to transmit command signals via the transmitter to control the controlled devices corresponding to the codes.
The programmable electronic device may learn the control codes of a remote control device that is configured to control one or more electronic devices. The electronic devices may include, but are not limited to, an audio-video (AV) device, such as a television, an AV receiver, a CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray player, and the like. In one embodiment, the programmable device may learn some of the control codes through an intermediary electronic device. The intermediary device may receive the control codes from the remote control device, or download the control codes from a remote server. The intermediary device may be communicatively coupled to the programmable device to "teach" the device the control codes.
At this point it means that the "intermediate device" and the "programmable electronic device" will in most cases boil down to being an iPhone, an iPad, an iMac or MacBook Pro. The key is the intermediate device has to have access to the internet and more specifically iCloud. The tiny TV remote will communicate with an intermediate device looking for new codes for new devices to control and the intermediate device goes to the cloud to find the needed codes to control a new consumer device in your home. The magic is iCloud which will keep your remote up to date at all times.
Technically, Apple's coming HDTV will likely be the ultimate intermediate device over time if your Apple HDTV is connected to the net and is set up for WiFi. It'll cut out all of the intermediate devices which are like annoying middlemen. Then again, there needs to be a way to allow Apple's current Apple TV (hockey puck device) to use this next generation remote.
Alternate Remote Control Learning System with Advanced Camera
Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown below illustrates a schematic of another embodiment of a remote control learning system. As shown in FIG. 2, the embodiment may include a remote control device and a programmable electronic device. The remote control device may include a transmitter, such as an IR transmitter, that is configured to transmit command signals to control one or more controlled devices. The programmable electronic device may include a camera, and/or an I/R receiver and a transmitter that are each coupled to a processing device.
Apple notes that the camera may capture a single image of the command signal. For example, the exposure time of the camera may be prolonged so as to capture a single still image representing the IR command signal. Additionally, the camera 208 may be a video camera configured to capture the command signal. The captured video may then be processed by the camera to derive the bit pattern of the command signal.
As shown in FIG. 3 above, the camera may include an infrared filter 224 that is positioned over some, but not all of the pixels of the image sensor. More particularly, the infrared filter may be positioned over the central pixels of the image sensor 220, leaving the edge pixels uncovered.
In this embodiment, the edge pixels may capture an infrared image, while the infrared filter may block all or some of the infrared signal from being absorbed by the central pixels. To form a conventional digital image, all of the pixels 222 in the grid may be exposed to light, but the camera may crop the edge pixels to form the final image or video. In contrast, the camera may process the edge pixels to capture the IR command signals emitted by the remote control device.
Apple's patent application 20120075082 was originally filed in Q3 2010 by inventors Fletcher Rothkopf, Stephen Lynch, Adam Mittleman and Phil Hobson. For those wanting to dig into this patent a little more could do so by using this temporary link that's only good for a few days from March 29, 2012.
Notice: Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
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