Apple's universal remote patent idea goes beyond TV

A new patent application offers a glimpse at a remote control that promises to control multiple devices with a dead-simple setup.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
2 min read
Apple's remote diagram.
Apple's remote diagram (click to enlarge). U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Another patent application has surfaced showing Apple's interest in changing the way people entertain themselves in their living rooms.

It may not be the much-anticipated Apple TV set, but it does provide a hint or two about a control system for such a device.

Chronicled by Apple Insider this morning, the patent filing details plans for a universal remote control system that uses a touchscreen to let users control multiple devices around their house. That includes the TV, stereo, and even the MP3 player on a user's computer.

The patent application, which Apple filed for in September of last year and published this morning, makes the argument that remote controls have become overly complicated, and that configuring and using those remotes is even more cumbersome (emphasis mine):

Manufacturers have created so-called universal remote controls, which can be trained to mimic several remote controls, and can then control each appliance for which they have been trained. While universal remote controls attempt to address the problem of multiple remote controls, these devices are even more complex to operate, further confusing the user. Additionally, a universal remote control may not be able to duplicate every command sequence designed into a remote control designed for the appliance, and for future appliances.

Apple's solution is to scan for other devices and automatically add them to the system, displaying relevant menus and controls on the screen and letting users hop back and forth between devices. The system can also continuously scan for devices in range, graying out or removing ones that are no longer there to keep things tidy.

Of course touchscreen universal remotes are nothing new. Logitech and other companies have been offering such devices for years. So far, Apple's only foray into the space has been a remote control app that controls its Apple TV set top box, and provides access to iTunes libraries that have home sharing enabled on the same Wi-Fi network.

Third-party companies like L5 Technology have also come up with infrared add-ons that can plug into iOS devices and use an app to control IR appliances.

This is, however, the latest patent application from Apple to take aim at remote controls for gadgets. One that cropped up in early 2008 detailed a Nintendo Wii-like remote that would track remote movements in a 3D space, potentially for use with its Apple TV set top box.

In 2005 the company has also explored customizable remote control-like devices as hardware add-ons to its computers and other portable devices in a separate patent application. A report in the New York Times last October suggested Apple would forgo remote control hardware entirely if it ever made a TV set, choosing to use its Siri voice assistant instead.