On June 23, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals one of the next chapters for AppleTV. The proposed system is described by Apple as being an enhanced TV widget paradigm. While Google has gotten an early start in this arena of TV meets the Internet, the system is basically working with static widgets. Apple's paradigm involves taking widgets to the next level of live widgets that will interact with TV shows like NBC's "The Voice" so that users could directly vote for their favorite candidates from their HDTV effortlessly. The system will also work with live sports like football with other live content is in the works. The system still involves Apple's AppleTV set-top-box but with a twist. It will finally hook up with regular Cable TV networks! Now that could be hot!
The Problem: Static TV Widgets
In the realm of computer software operating systems and application programs, light-weight, single-purpose applications referred to as "widgets" or "gadgets" have gained some prominence as useful resources with which users could interact to obtain information (e.g., weather, stock ticker values), perform a particular function (e.g., desktop calculator, web search interface) or interact with others (e.g., send messages back and forth among friends on a social networking website). Apple Inc., for example, provides an environment known as "Dashboard" that enables users to choose from among a wide assortment of widgets, which could be installed and execute locally on a user's computer. Generally speaking, the basic components of a widget include a graphical user interface (GUI) for communicating with a user and a single-purpose functionality that responds to user input and which represents an available resource. The types and functionality of such widgets are limited largely only by the widget developer's creativity.
Recently, a few consumer electronics companies have extended the widget paradigm to television (TV). For example, while watching TV programming on a widget-enabled TV set, the viewer could manipulate the TV remote control to interact, for example, with a "chat" widget displayed on the TV screen to send text messages back and forth with others connected to a common chat network.
Apple's Solution: Enhanced TV Widget Paradigm
Apple states that they recognized a limitation of existing widget technology as applied to a TV environment – in that conventional widgets, while often useful resources standing alone, are unaware of the media content that the TV is currently presenting. For example, such conventional TV widgets are unaware of what particular television program the user is presently watching on the TV. Accordingly, Apple envisioned and developed an enhanced TV widget paradigm in which widgets are capable of being content-aware and thus capable, among other things, of automatically (i.e., without intervening user input) providing the user with access to information or other resources that are complementary or otherwise relevant to the media content currently being presented by the TV set to the user.
Advantages of an Advanced TV Widgets System
Apple lays out the advantages of this new TV widget system as follows: The subject matter could be implemented to create an enhanced and richer TV viewing experience in which complementary resources (e.g., background information, webpages, supplemental media content, executable applications, utilities and the like) are guaranteed to be relevant to the media content being presented. It could be caused to automatically appear on the user's TV screen at an appropriate time and/or in synchronization with presentation of the media content.
Similarly, these same resources could be caused to automatically disappear when they are no longer relevant or useful based on the currently presented portion of the media content, thereby minimizing confusion and screen clutter. As a result, the user will tend to have a more enjoyable and fulfilling viewing experience and will be spared the trouble of having to manually locate and access resources that may or may not be relevant to the content presently being presented.
The user interface may further be configured to provide the user of the enhanced content development system with one or more mechanisms to synchronize one or more events with corresponding portions of the item of primary media content.
The System and Presentation of Enhanced Widgets
The system includes a future version of AppleTV that could finally be used as a true set-top box, in that it could be used with traditional Cable TV provider to access TV programming from CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, HBO and others. Alternatively, the system could connect to Apple's iTunes Store and websites like YouTube, Hulu that make streaming or downloadable content available. Apple first discussed an advanced set-top-box in their 2011 granted patent.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown below depicts an example TV screen (200) of a media content presentation that is enhanced through the presence and use of content-aware widgets.
In this example, the HDTV display is presenting a primary item of media content, the movie "Jaws," that occupies a majority of the screen (200). A widget area (205) is displayed on the screen in a manner that overlays the primary media content but, in this example, maintains a predetermined level of transparency such that portions of the primary media content that would otherwise be obscured by the widget area remain visible.
Arranged within the widget area is a quantity of individual widgets (206-211), in this example six, each of which represents a resource with which a user could interact to obtain information and/or achieve a particular functionality. Depending on implementation choices, the widget area could, among other variable parameters, optionally appear elsewhere on the screen and could have a different shape, size, configuration and/or level of transparency. It could also accommodate a different number of widgets and disappear from view in response to a trigger (e.g., user choice, media content provider choice, TV set state, default condition, etc.).
In this example, the widget area is divided into two portions: a top portion that is reserved for content-aware widgets and a bottom portion that is reserved for user-customizable widgets. As shown, the top portion includes three content-aware widgets: a "Jaws Cast & Crew" widget 208, a "Shark FAQ" widget 207, and a "Jaws Special Features" widget 206. These widgets appear automatically (i.e., without requiring intervening user input) at a time, location and choosing of a third party, for example, the media content provider that is broadcasting or otherwise making available the primary media content currently being presented--here, the movie Jaws.
As their respective names suggest, these three widgets (206-208) represent resources that are complementary, supplemental, relevant and/or related to the movie Jaws--the primary media content currently being presented. For example, the user could interact with the Jaws Cast & Crew widget 208 to obtain information about the people involved with making the movie currently being presented as the primary media content.
This widget could be implemented, for example, by configuring the Jaws Cast & Crew widget 208 to link directly to the webpage on the Internet Movie Database ("IMDB"; www.imdb.com) that is dedicated to the movie Jaws. Accordingly, when the user manipulates an input device such as an infrared or RF remote control device (not shown) to move a cursor to hover over and select the Jaws Cast & Crew widget, the media device (AppleTV), which receives and processes this input, will cause a new or different display, for example, a web browser window (not shown), to be presented on the TV screen to thereby provide the user with access to the IMDB webpage dedicated to the movie Jaws. Depending on design choices, this new display could be implemented as a sub-window (not shown) on the TV screen or could completely replace and occupy the entire TV screen for as long as the user is interacting with the Jaws IMDB webpage.
The Trivia Widget
Other variations of widget behavior could be implemented. For example, a widget could be configured to provide, and require, interaction with the user. In one such case, the viewing progress of primary media content could be controlled and/or altered by user interaction, for example, if the primary media content triggers the activation of a Jaws Trivia widget, which asks the user various trivia questions about the movie Jaws and, depending on the user's answer, will suspend presentation (e.g., until the user guesses correctly) and/or alter the subsequent presentation order depending on the user's answer (e.g., jumps to a scene in the movie that was the subject of the trivia question).
The Interactive Widget
As another example of interactivity, the primary media content presentation could activate a voting widget that allows the user to participate with others as an audience member of the same media content presentation. For example, while presenting a performance of a contestant on the FOX TV show American Idol, a widget could be activated at the conclusion of that performance to allow the user to vote on the quality of that performance.
This Type of interactivity could have been really handy with voting on the show "The Voice" last night. The Voice is already connected to Apple's iTunes where you could purchase the tunes that the various contestants performed that evening. The purchase of tunes counts as a vote for an artist. Apple's proposed enhanced interactive widget system will make participating in such live shows a killer app on arrival.
The Social Networking Widget & Widget Store
Also as shown in Apple's patent FIG. 2 we see widget 209 representing social networking for use with Facebook or Twitter. Other notable widgets listed include one for stock market information and news. Yet the system is customizable in that users will be able to access a "widget store" to choose their widgets of choice. Yes, there's an App for That!
The Widget Synchronizer
Apple's patent FIG. 3 presented below is a mockup of an example graphical user interface that a media content provider could use to build an enhanced media content presentation in which, for example, a video clip having an associated audio track (e.g., a movie featuring scuba diving) is synchronized with various content-aware widgets, which when presented to a user, will provide that user with access to resources that are complementary to the media content item.
The "Widget Synchronizer" user interface window 300 is composed of four separate regions: a filmstrip region (305) in which a subset of frames of the media content item is displayed (and which could move forward or backward to gain access to other portions of the media content item), a timeline region (310) representing one or more master timelines for the media content item, a widget template corral (315), which represents a store of previously developed widget templates, and an Event Corral (316), which represents a store of different events (e.g., Start, Stop, Commercial, Credits) that could be associated with widget instances to control their timing and behaviors.
Live TV Widgets & TV coming to the iPhone
The different positioning of markers 346 and 347 reflects customization choices made by the operator so that the widget timing and/or behaviors will differ if the media content is experienced on an iPhone or computer rather than on a TV set.
Considering that Apple's widgets will work with "Live -TV," you could see from the Widget Synchronizer that the iPhone is included. So it would appear that Apple's iOS devices may one day soon introduce TV services – like those offered today. A 2008 Apple patent hinted as such via broadcast tags for radio and HDTV and a 2010 patent discussed the idea of iOS devices being a TV and DVR.
Live Sporting Events
Other synchronization tools and interfaces could be provided to enable media content providers (e.g., broadcasters) to insert content-aware widgets into a live, or slightly time-delayed, media content presentation, such as a live sporting event or the like.
For example, a broadcaster such as ESPN could create an information timeline for a live football game. An engineer could use a tablet computer displaying an alternative graphical user interface which displays a live feed of the football game, an event corral, and active widgets. The event corral is populated with tags for players in the game and in-game events such as a change of possession, first down, interception, etc. The objects in the event corral are coded by shape: player tags are circles and in-game events are squares.
When a player enters or leaves the field, the engineer drags that player's tag onto or off of the video feed, and when an in-game event occurs, the engineer drags the in-game event onto the video feed. For example, if a defensive player intercepts a pass, the engineer drags the interception in-game event onto the video feed, drags the defensive player events off of the video feed, and drags the offensive player events onto the feed.
Of course this leaves the door wide-open for future live services for other events like live boxing and others which Apple covered in their 2009 patent. Our report covering that subject matter was titled "Apple TV to Take Sporting Events to a Whole New Level."
Apple's patent FIG. 4 shown below is a flowchart of a process for synchronizing widgets with media content.
Today's published patent application 20110154200 from Apple was originally filed in Q4 2009 by inventors Daniel Davis, Garrett Groszko and Alan Cannistraro. To review other AppleTV patents, see our TV Archives.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) 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 further details. Patent applications shouldn't be digested as rumors or fast-tracked according to rumor time tables. Apple's patent applications represent true research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
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