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Thursday, December 31, 2009, 06:50 am PT (09:50 am ET)

Apple still pushing for patent on Wii-like Apple TV remote control

Even as new data shows that Apple TV is struggling to gain traction in the marketplace, Apple continues to push for a patent on a wireless "remote wand" for future versions of the streaming media device that would provide users with precise control over a cursor movement on TV screens and unlock three-dimensional controls similar to those offered by Nintendo's Wii controller.

The wand, which first surfaced in patent filings from the Cupertino-based company back in 2007, would control the movement of a cursor displayed on a TV screen by the position and orientation at which it is held by the user. As the user moves the wand, the on-screen cursor would follow. Successive filings also show how the device would facilitate navigation of media through jumbo-sized CoverFlow movie browser interfaces on the big screen.

Unlike the current 5-button remote shipping with the current version of Apple TV, the wand would be capable of controlling a plurality of new operations and applications that may be available from the media system, including for example zoom operations, a keyboard application, an image application, an illustration application, and a media application.

According to a continuation of Apple's ongoing patent requests on the technology that resurfaced this week, the Apple TV media system could identify the movements of the wand using any suitable motion detection component such as an embedded accelerometer or a gyroscope. Another approach for identifying the movements of the wand would be to determine its absolute position relative to one or more infrared modules positioned adjacent to the screen in the living room.

"The wand may include an optical component for capturing images of the infrared modules, and may calculate its orientation and distance from the modules based on the captured images," the company said. "In some embodiments, the electronic device may direct the infrared modules to identify the position of an infrared emitter incorporated on the wand, and may calculate the absolute position of the wand relative to the infrared modules."

By incorporating the wand controller into future Apple TVs, Apple would unlock a tremendous amount of capability in its set-top-box interface while blurring the lines between a conventional PC and a media system. In one example, the company shows how pressing the remote's menu button would trigger a Dock to rise from the bottom of the Apple TV screen, which users could then navigate by moving the wand from left to right.

Apple TV Magic Wand


The wand could also incorporate several new selection techniques that would reduce dependency on physical buttons such as the menu/select button on the current Apple remote.

"In some embodiments, the user may provide a selection input by moving wand in a particular manner," Apple said. "For example, the user may flick wand (e.g., move wand in circular pattern), rotate wand in a particular manner (e.g., perform a rotation of wand), move wand a particular distance off screen, or any other suitable movement of wand."

Apple TV Magic Wand


When it comes to navigating album art or other media presented in CoverFlow mode, the user could draw a circular pattern on the screen to cause the CoverFlow carousel to rotate, displaying different selectable options. Wand movements could also direct the carousel to turn in a particular direction based on the direction in which it's rotated.

When inside Apple TV's photo application, similar movements would allow the user to navigate large sets of thumbnails and make selections. However, a more powerful aspect may the ability of the wand to zoom in and out of images based on its proximity to the screen.

"To zoom out, the user may move wand away from screen such that the distance between wand and screen may be larger than the initial distance between wand and [the] screen," Apple explained. "The larger distance between wand and screen may be depicted by the position of wand relative [to its] origin. [...] In some embodiments, the user may provide an input in the z-direction (e.g., to zoom out) by providing an appropriate input with an input mechanism without moving wand. For example, the user may roll a scroll wheel, provide an input on a touchpad, or move a joystick to provide an input in the z-direction and zoom out the image of [the] screen."

Apple TV Magic Wand


Rotating the wand could also serve to rotate and skew images on the screen:

Apple TV Magic Wand


Another advantage of the wand would be its ability to trigger a keyboard application from within any of Apple TV's core applications and provide swifter input. Instead of navigating the keyboard with left, right, up, and down arrows, the "user may select a character on the displayed line by pointing wand at a particular character to place cursor over the character," Apple said. "To access other characters not displayed on a particular line, the user may select one of [the] arrows to scroll [a] line to the left or to the right. In some embodiments, the user may simply place cursor at the left or right edge of the screen to scroll [a] line."

Apple TV Magic Wand


Apple goes on in the massive 64-page filing to describe methods for using the wand to control media scrubber bars, jump around the Apple TV interface, and serve as a digital pen for an illustration application.

Apple TV Magic Wand


The May 2008 filing is credited to Apple employees Duncan Kerr and Nicholas King.

In January acting chief executive Tim Cook said, "We will continue to invest [in Apple TV], because we believe there is something there for us in the future." Cook's comments were in the context of the news that unit sales were up over three times year-over-year. He still cautioned Apple is considering the device a hobby, as Steve Jobs has often said since its release.

On Thursday, AppleInsider reported that sales of existing Apple TV hardware have seen little boost from an October software update that reorganized the device's primary software interface. Volume shipments of the $229 product have remained relatively flat, rising only by a single digit percentage over the past 12 months.