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Sunday, April 27, 2008, 11:20 am PT (02:20 pm ET)

Remote control function said hidden in iPhone beta firmware

Code in Apple's latest iPhone 2.0 beta firmware allegedly contains references to a utility that will let an iPhone or iPod touch play media from nearby iTunes sources.

Pointing only to an unnamed person as the source for its leak, TUAW claims that multiple string entries in the cellphone's beta code refer to selecting from different media categories and include mentions of dialog boxes that let users choose their particular source.

The information suggests that the additions are the groundwork for an Apple TV-like feature, purportedly named iControl, that would let users play any iTunes content over a local network with features similarly to the dedicated media hub already on store shelves.

It's unclear as to whether the feature is strictly intended for streaming local content to the iPhone itself or can actively steer other devices, imitating a more advanced home theater remote such as Logitech's Harmony.

However, the listings as they appear would indicate a direct connection to a 2.5-year-old patent filing submitted by Apple in late 2005.

In the filing, the iPhone maker says it has invented a method that would let a portable media player view the contents of a local media server, such as a computer, and send instructions telling the media server to change tracks while it outputs content to a separate media receiver, whether physically attached to the computer (such as speakers) or remote (such as an Airport Express-like connection).

The aim is to let users steer media playback in a networked media system with existing hardware rather than dedicated controllers, Apple engineers state in the earlier patent.

Regardless of its actual purpose of iControl, there are no clues as to when, if at all, the software will be released for the company's handheld devices.