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Apple filing depicts Apple TV with iChat widget interface

A new and discrete patent filing on the part of Apple Inc. portrays previously undisclosed versions of the company's Apple TV set-top-box software and remote control that make extensive use of widgets to facilitate everything from online chat to ordering concert tickets during a concert broadcast.

The August 2006 filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office spans some 39 pages, but bears some of its most enticing revelations as part of a discussion involving ways of associating Dashboard-like widgets with various kinds of video content.

Apple says such widgets could be displayed or become available based on the content currently displayed in the Apple TV user interface. If the content is broadcasted, such as live television, then a widget could potentially be downloaded as part of the broadcast signal from a cable head-end, or provided through a separate communication such as an Internet connection, and then displayed over the content.

The widget can also be downloaded at a different time than the broadcast signal and invoked by information contained in the broadcast signal, the company explained. Similarly, it could be triggered by some event , such as user interaction with a user interface element, or come included with the content on a storage medium such as a DVD.

"For example, while the user is viewing a musical performance a ticket widget can be displayed over the content or elsewhere in the user interface, which can be access by the user to purchase concert tickets or receive other information related to the concert or performer," Apple said. "In the example shown (below), the widget could be triggered by a marker in the content which corresponds with a portion of the concert where the performer is not performing, or can be based on a period of inactivity (e.g., the DVD player is placed on "pause"). In some implementations, the widget can be displayed as part of a DVD menu system."

Apple Filing

In order to facilitate interaction with the widget, the Cupertino-based company proposes a revised version of its Apple Remote device that can include one or more generic buttons that can be programmed automatically or manually to interact with the widget.

"The mapping between the controls and various parameters of the widget can automatically change to correspond to the widget currently displayed in the user interface," the company said. "In the example shown, an remote control button assignment map is displayed in the user interface to remind the user of the current functions that are mapped to the generic controls. Alternatively, the remote control device can include dedicated controls that provide the same function for each widget displayed in the user interface."

Apple Filing

Apple's filing also illustrates an exemplary process for displaying real-time information using a widget (above) in order to supplement broadcasted content, such as live sporting events. In such scenarios, Apple TV would be able to display a widget in the user interface that is capable of receiving and display in real-time the win/loss records of two baseball teams participating in the live broadcast of a baseball game.

Taking that concept a bit further, Apple also illustrated an process for providing live chat sessions using widgets on an Apple TV device. "In some scenarios, it may be desirable to discuss with others the content displayed in the user interface in real-time using one or more widgets," the company wrote. "In some implementations, the user can use the remote control device or other input device to start a video and/or audio conferencing application using widgets."

Apple Filing

As an example of such a video conferencing application (above), Apple specifically mentioned iChat, but said that other video, audio or web conferencing technologies could also theoretically be used.

"For example, in some applications dialog windows can be opened in a multimedia center application for receiving instant messaging text with or without video feeds of the participants," the company said. "In some implementations, the widgets include drawers which can be pulled open to reveal various controls for adjusting video or audio."

Apple Filing

Elaborating further on its Apple TV iChat concept, Apple said widget interface could also include is a list of individuals currently online, as well as other controls, such as links to web sites and other resources that include information that may be of interest to the participants.

Like its personal computer-based equivalent, Apple TV's version of iChat could host video chats with three simultaneous participants, either in a three-panel widget interface or as separate widgets.