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Patent reveals universal Apple wireless touch-screen remote

Apple Computer recently researched and developed a wireless touch-screen remote control concept that would automatically discover and communicate with existing and future consumer electronics appliances as well as the personal computer, a filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office has revealed.

The invention, titled "apparatus and method to facilitate universal remote control," is described in an April 2002 patent filing as a universal remote control with display screen that is capable of communicating wirelessly with digital lifestyle applications running on a computer in addition home electronics appliances such as a television, stereo, VCR and DVD player.

A wireless communication mechanism built into the remote would allow the device to automatically detect appliances within range. Once an appliance is detected, the remote would request a set of user-interface controls from the appliance and then make those controls accessible to the user via graphics on the remote's touch-screen.

According to the filing, each appliance — such as a DVD player or iTunes app — need only be discovered once. Discovered appliances would be added to a list of controllable items on the remote's touch-screen. When a user selects a specific appliance from the touch-screen menu, a set of interface controls pertinent to that appliance would appear on the screen. Devices that fall out of range of the remote would be represented by grayed listings.

In order to automate discovery and the transfer of user interface controls from third party appliances to the remote, the designer, Alberto Vidal of Los Gatos, Calif., called for a combination of Bluetooth wireless technology, markup languages like XML, and protocols such as HTTP. In one example provided by the filing, interface controls would be delivered from the appliances to the remote via XML tags.

"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," the filing reads in part. "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."

While the Apple invention attempts to alleviate the confusion and clutter of multiple remotes or incomplete universal remotes, it does not appear to rely on a set of standards broad enough to ensure success with the majority of existing consumer electronics. Still, rumors as recent as last May suggest that Apple continues to experiment with wireless display-based remotes. Specifically, the company is rumored to have worked on a remote to control iTunes playlists over wireless connections. Its release may still be pending.

In addition to a detailed description of the remote, the Apple patent filing includes a handful of concept designs and flow charts (seen below) depicting the device and its functionality. However, no detailed renderings of the remote's form-factor are provided.