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Apple files 'universal remote control' patent

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Apple TV

© Apple

Apple has filed a patent in the US which suggests the firm is working on a radical new way to control multiple different electronic devices with an iPhone or iPad.

The Patently Apple website claims that the filing details functionality for taking a photo of your current television remote control, and then uploading it to iCloud for analysis.

Apple's proposed system then determines the make and model of device you want to control, and creates a "virtual copy" of the remote within the iOS operating system environment.

Apple is thought to have developed technology that obtains the IR codes for remote controls, tests them and then programmes the universal remote control, featuring virtual buttons corresponding to the previous control layout, most likely for use on an iPhone or iPad.

Alongside televisions, it is also thought that the 'iOS Remote app' could also be used to control other devices, such as DVD players, home entertainment systems and HiFis, just by taking a photo of the device and sending it off for analysis.

Patently Apple says: "Apple states that some remote controls may be configurable to control multiple different electronic devices. Such remote controls are commonly referred to as 'universal remote controls' as they consolidate the control of electronic devices into a single controller.

"Advanced universal remote controls may be capable of controlling dozens of devices, including audio and video equipment and home automations systems (e.g. lighting, door locks and the like)."

The website notes that current universal remote controls typically require users to programme the device themselves, but Apple's proposed system would automatically do all the work.

There is no clear indication whether Apple is actually planning to bring the technology to market, but the patent filing was lodged back in late 2010, suggesting the firm has been working on the system for some time.

It is possible that Apple's 'universal remote app' could launch alongside the firm's rumoured new connected TV set. Apple is thought to be locked in negotiations with the Hollywood studios and major broadcasters for its widely-speculated 'iTV' service.

However, while the content is hugely important for the new TV platform, the firm would also most likely be keen to innovate around the way consumers navigate the interface.

The Apple TV set top box product already comes with a basic physical remote control, but the design is considered limited for a full TV set-up involving navigation of hundreds of channels and content.

It may be that Apple intends to allow users to control the iTV system with their iOS device, potentially using the comfort of a previous remote control.

Such a move would raise questions over limiting the market, as it would require people to have an iPad or iPhone to operate the TV. This may mean that Apple will also ship a standard remote with the product to cover all the bases.

Another solution would be that Apple will allow users to control the television set using Siri, the voice assistant in the iPhone 4S, but not all consumers are comfortable so far with voice control in consumer electronics.

Apple could also adopt a similar strategy to LG, in that the Korean firm offers TV sets that can be controlled using a standard remote control, but also via motion, voice and other control systems.

As it stands, there has been no confirmed indication that Apple intends to expand its TV offering beyond Apple TV, but many commentators have noted that the living room is potentially the next area for innovation for the world's biggest technology firm.

Yesterday, a new report revealed that UK broadcasters expect wealthy new players such as Apple to soon start competing for sports and entertainment rights to bolster their emerging television platforms.

> Steve Jobs's Apple TV pitch turned down by CBS

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