On July 26, 2012, the US Patent & Trademark Office published yet another extraordinary patent application from Apple that reveals new details regarding Apple's future iPhone-NFC controls system. Our report mainly focuses on the new system as it relates to an iDevice controlling and interacting with a possible standalone television in addition to an expanded version of Apple's current Apple TV styled device. The updated Apple TV could one day control cable or satellite television programming and video game play via a video game controller. This would really be a boost for Apple if users were able to play high end RPG video styled games with a standard styled controller. Further, Apple's invention runs deep and they envision NFC ready iDevices being able to control standalone cameras, projectors, in-home security systems, lawn sprinkler systems, your thermostat, garage door and more. One of these fine days, future iDevices will finally support NFC; and when they do – watch out, because Apple will open the floodgates and release a new generation of applications noted in this report and others like their forthcoming iWallet. Will Apple's next generation iPhone 5 finally be the one that will introduce NFC? Only time will tell.
Apple's Patent Background
Beginning in late 2009 and carrying through to 2010, Apple filed for a wide range of patent applications regarding the use of Near Field Communications in a future iPhone that would be able to work with and control their full range of products from the iMac to Apple TV right through to household devices and even work with applications that would be able to open a hotel room or car door.
Today's patent application is noted as being a divisional patent application. This may indicate that more patent applications regarding this technology will be introduced over the coming year.
Many of the patent graphics found in today's patent application were covered in the earlier patent applications specifically noted above. They include such things as a future iPhone being able to control a smart thermostat, garage door opener, a DVR and an iMac with a CAD application as just a few examples.
Today's report will introduce you to some of the newer aspects of Apple's iPhone NFC roadmap that were never detailed before and skip the preliminary aspects of what NFC is and can do, which were covered in our prior reports.
Controllable or Controlling Device
We begin with the basics of Apple's patent FIG. 1 which illustrates an electronic device 10 that may be configured as a controllable device or a controlling device.
Apple's electronic device 10 may represent, for example, an iPhone, iPod, iMac, MacBook, AppleTV or other devices by any manufacturer. It should be appreciated that embodiments of the electronic device 10 may include more or fewer elements than depicted in FIG. 1. Indeed, in one embodiment, the electronic device may be an iPhone. configured as a controlling device to control one or more controllable devices, which may be computers, televisions, DVRs, optical disc players, standalone media players, satellite television or cable television receivers, audio/video (A/V) receivers, digital projectors, networkable thermostats, networkable security systems, networkable lighting, networkable garage door or security gate openers, networkable sprinkler systems, or digital cameras, etc.
Certain embodiments of the electronic device 10 may also include a near field communication (NFC) interface 34. The NFC interface may allow for extremely close range communication at relatively low data rates (e.g., 464 kb/s), and may comply with such standards as ISO 18092 or ISO 21521, or it may allow for close range communication at relatively high data rates (e.g., 560 Mbps), and may comply with the TransferJet protocol.
Apple's patent application presents more than 150 graphics. Due to the repetitive nature of the graphics and the fact that our previous reports cover many of today's graphics, our report will present only the graphics pertaining to new graphic-sets. We begin with Apple's emphasis on television and then randomly present other graphics and information of interest.
Controlling a Television
Apple's patent FIGS. 54-55 shown below relate to controlling a digital or analog television (analog or digital) using another electronic device 10, such as an iPhone (#40 of FIG. 54). Turning first to patent FIG. 54, a control initiation operation 738 may take place between the iPhone and a television 740 which may represent an embodiment of the electronic device 10 of FIG. 1.
The television may include internal circuitry configured to decode a cable or satellite TV signal or a digital broadcast signal, and may output the audiovisual data obtained from the decoded signal to the television display 18. A series of user-selectable buttons 742 and/or an indicator light 744 may appear on the face of the television to indicate, for example, whether the device is on or off or responding to a control stream from a controlling device, as well as to enable the user to select a channel, volume, menu, or other capabilities of the television. As should be appreciated, the television may be capable of interfacing with an iPhone.
The television may or may not include an NFC interface. If the NFC is present, a user may tap the iPhone to the NFC interface 34 of the television to create an NFC communication channel (which we'll review later below). Various control information may be transferred across the NFC communication channel 96 as illustrated in patent FIG. 54. If the NFC interface is not present, the Television may include an RFID tag or a matrix barcode tag, either of which may be used by the iPhone to initiate control.
Patent FIGS. 55A to 55C represent screens that may be displayed on the iPhone after set up. Turning first to FIG. 55A below the television graphic, we see screen 746 representing a prompt displayed on an iPhone providing a button 748 labeled "Control TV." The screen may thus prompt the user to launch the device control application for the purpose of controlling the television. It should be appreciated that the screens of FIGS. 55A-C presume that the television has already been added as a device that may be controlled from the iPhone.
Turning to patent FIG. 55B, a screen 750 may be displayed on an iPhone when the button 748, labeled "Control TV," is selected by the user. The screen may include a variety of user-selectable buttons, each of which may enable the user to control the television using a specific remote control scheme. The variety of user-selectable buttons of the screen may enable the user to control the television. Particularly, a button 752, labeled "Classic Remote," may allow a user to control the television using a traditional remote control, as may be associated with the device from its manufacturer. By way of example, the manufacturer of the television may provide a software copy of the traditional remote control in the control software plug-in to enable the user to control the digital or analog television in the same manner on the iPhone as with a physical traditional remote (see related patents here and here).
A button 754, labeled "Media Remote," may allow a user to control the television with additional functionality. The additional functionality may include, for example, display of a channel number and/or affiliated network and/or display of information regarding a currently playing television program, as well as other information traditionally not available on a remote control.
A button 756, labeled "Hybrid," may enable a user to control the television using a combination of elements from the classic remote accessible via the button 752 and the media remote available via the button 754. A button 758, labeled "Universal Remote," may allow a user to control the television using a customized universal remote, which may include the ability to control a variety of devices in addition to the television.
A button 760, labeled "Options," may allow a user to vary certain options, such as whether to display only remote control schemes provided by the manufacturer of the television or by other developers, as well as whether to automatically update the control software plug-in. Among other options available via the button 760 may be a preferred remote which may be automatically loaded when the button 748 is selected or when the control initiation operation 738 is undertaken.
Apple's patent FIG. 55C represents a screen 762 that may be displayed when a user selects, for example, the button 756, labeled "Hybrid Remote." The screen 762 may thus include a classic remote pane and a media remote pane which may include a classic remote pane with a virtual numeric pad. By way of example, the classic virtual buttons may reflect those found on a traditional remote that includes channel up/down, volume up/down and so forth.
A title bar across the top portion of the screen 762 may appear when a user presses a finger near the top of the screen. The title bar may include, for example, a button 780, labeled "Scheme." Pressing or selecting this button may allow the user to return to the screen 750 to select a different control scheme for control of the television. A button 782, labeled "Edit," may enable a user to add or remove the buttons that appear on the screen 762. The editing procedure enabled by selecting the button 782 may be generally described above with reference to FIG. 47D.
Controller for Video Games
What would go nicely with a new smart HDTV from Apple? Well, video games of course. Apple's patent FIGS. 44-45 illustrate techniques for controlling a video game system. Patent FIG. 44 depicts a control initiation operation between an iPhone and a game controller 84. The controller 84 may be a video game system or a standalone media player such as Apple TV (the current styled unit).
Apple's patent FIGS. 45A to 45C represent screens that may be displayed on an iPhone after set-up. Turning first to FIG. 45A we see a prompt to control any devices to which the game controller 84 pertains. For example, a button 588, labeled "Control Video Game System," may allow a user to control a video game system to which the video game controller 84 pertains. Alternatively, the video game controller may also be used to control Apple TV (the current styled unit) via button 590.
By selecting the button 588, a user may navigate to a screen that may generally indicate what game is being played on the video game system, and may provide various actions for using the iPhone as a game controller. For example, a button 594, labeled "Classic Controller," may allow a user to control the game with a controller of the type that may have been available when the game was released (PS3 or Xbox). A button 596, labeled "Custom Controller," may allow the user to use a customized video game controller on their iPhone to control the video game. A button 598, labeled "Game Developer Recommends . . . ," may allow a user to control the game using a video game controller on the iPhone recommended by the developers of the video game, if the developers have recommended a controller.
By way of example, the user may select the button 594, labeled "Classic Controller." During so may cause the iPhone to display a screen 600, as shown in FIG. 45C. The screen 600 may represent a video game controller including, for example, a directional pad 602 and various other buttons 604 that may be configured to control Apple TV (the current styled unit) or another video game system.
The Set-Up Process: Scanning Code
Apple's patent FIGS. 29A-C below represents one of the set-up processes to configure an iPhone to control various devices. The example below illustrates such a set-up process with a future Apple TV set-top-box. Turning first to FIG. 29A, the screen 162 may present the user with the button 168 labeled "Scan Code." Selecting the user selectable button 168 may cause the iPhone to display screen 414, as illustrated in FIG. 29B. The screen may include a camera window 416 and a user selection prompt. As noted in FIG. 29B, the user selection prompt may instruct the user to align the matrix barcode tag 124 on the camera screen to acquire an image. Image boundaries 420 may indicate the portion of the camera window that may be saved as an image; selecting a user selectable button 422 labeled "Acquire" may cause the image of the matrix barcode tag 124 currently within the image boundaries to be acquired.
Next up is the 424 screen shown above in patent FIG. 29C. This may be displayed when the button 422 is selected. A still image 426 may represent the image acquired by the iPhone's camera. Two buttons labeled 422 may be labeled "Process Image" and "Re-Acquire," respectively.
Apple's patent FIG. 30 depicts a control initiation operation 432 that may take place in conjunction with the screens of FIGS. 29A-C. As illustrated in FIGS. 29A-C above, a user may scan the matrix barcode tag 124 that may be located on the Apple TV device to be controlled. In the example of FIG. 30, the iPhone's camera 36 may acquire an image of the matrix barcode tag that may be located on the Apple TV device. The iPhone noted in this patent figure uses optical character recognition and/or matrix-barcode-reading software. As should be appreciated, the control information encoded in the matrix barcode tag may be used by the iPhone to acquire the appropriate control software plug-in to control Apple TV, the set-top-box styled unit.
Other Examples of the iPhone controlling Other Devices via NFC
Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q1 2012 by inventors Michael Rosenblatt, Gloria Lin, Sean Mayo, and Taido Nakajima and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office. If it warrants it, we'll do a follow-up report with additional information at a later point in time. For more on Apple and NFC, see our archives.
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Sites Covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, Twitter, Facebook, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, Macnews, iPhone World Canada, Real Clear Technology, 9to5 Mac, iPhoneclub Netherlands, Conecti Mexico, AppAdvice, BGR, BGR Germany, Yahoo! News, iPhones Russia, BestTechInfo, NFCNews, CNET, MacDailyNews, iDevice Romania, TechRadar, and more.
Related: Cult of Mac: Apple Acquires Fingerprint Sensor Maker AuthenTec: (the article links to "Apple Gearing Up for the Coming NFC- iPhone Revolution.)