updated 11:20 am EDT, Thu June 23, 2011
Long interest in TV technology
Two newly-published Apple patent applications point at high-level concepts the company is exploring. The first involves content-aware widgets for TVs. Whereas many modern TVs are implementing simple interactive widgets, Apple's idea would make the widgets reflect current programming. While watching Jaws, for example, widgets might not only allow access to news, stocks and social networking, but also the movie's special features, cast and crew information and an FAQ about real sharks. A viewer might also be able to interact with some shows, for instance by voting on candidates.
Apple has long shown interest in developing technology for TVs, having regularly filed for a number of patents related to things like interface concepts. Analysts, mainly Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, have often claimed that Apple will develop a full-scale HDTV, going beyond the limited abilities of the Apple TV set-top. Talk has been revived with a rumor that Apple hardware could soon be built into TVs by a "major supplier," but with the Apple logo on the outside. Such sets might ship as soon as the fall or in 2012.
The other Apple patent filing, Directional Audio Interface for Portable Media Device, depicts an interface that would be controlled through a mix of gestures and "audible control nodes." The latter are essentially spatially-panned sound cues; gesturing a device towards the cue would trigger an associated command, such as switching genres or artists. In theory the concept would allow using Apple handhelds without glancing at a screen, but in a fashion more complex than VoiceOver.