Apple preps Jobsian magic wand
Putting the TV in Apple TV
An Apple patent filing on Thursday reveals the company's plans for a cursor-controlling remote with more than a few tricks up its sleeve, and which may hint at the big-screen Apple television that has been the subject of many a rumor.
Patent application #20090066648, entitled "GUI Applications for Use with 3D Remote Controller," takes the familiar Apple Remote and upgrades it to a motion-sensing, infrared-communicating 3D mouse and "flashlight."
As described in the filing, the wand will include a "motion detection component" such as an accelerometer or gyroscope, and will be able to communicate with a "media system" both through movement sensed by that detector and through absolute positioning determined by one or more infrared (IR) sensors, as does the überpopular Nintendo Wii.
Of Apple's current products, the most obvious beneficiary would be the company's "hobby" product, the Apple TV. To make it work with an existing big-screen TV, the wand would require an add-on IR receiver, as does the Wii.
Or Apple could release its own big-screen TV - aka "media system" - with IR sensors built-in.
The 68-page filing goes into excruciating detail as to how the wand could interface with the aforementioned media system. Unlike the Apple Remote, which merely allows you to beam commands toward your Apple TV much as does any standard remote (although with a vastly simplified array of buttons), the wand would provide the ability to manipulate objects on-screen.
By being able to broadcast to the media system its distance and orientation in addition to simply sending it commands, the wand could function as a 3D cursor controller.
In its most-basic use, the wand could scroll through lists by simply flicking them as does your finger on an iPhone, then click on a selection with the press of a button.
In its most-basic use, the proposed wand could control a cursor
It could also call up an icon dock à la Mac OS X, then display a cursor which could launch an application by clicking on a selected icon.
You could use the wand to call up a dock full of application icons
One such application could, for example, display thumbnails of all the images, albums, or movies in your iPhoto and iTunes collection.
The filing describes how the wand could be used to scroll through the thumbnails either horizontally or vertically, then choose one for viewing, listening, editing, or cropping.
The wand could flick through thumbnails much as your finger flicks an iPhone
Rotating, typing, drawing, and flashlighting
If an image is selected, the wand could be rotated and its motion sensor would transfer that rotation information to the media system, which would rotate the image to the same degree. The same motion-sensing capability could be used to drag an image across the display, move it into a boundry box for cropping, or zoom in and out by moving the wand towards or away from the display.
Rotate the wand, and your image rotates right along with it
Another application could enable a keyboard - either QWERTY or alphabetical - which the wand could use to type in such info as media names for searches or passwords for media purchases.
For that matter, it could also be used to enter parental control passwords so you could watch those "special" videos after Junior has gone beddy-bye.
Think of it as typing with one virtual finger
When functioning as a simple cursor, the wand could be used to select editing and drawing tools in a image-editing or drawing application.
Essentially, anything that a cursor can do, the wand can do - with the addidtion of movement not only on the X and Y axes, but also on the Z.
Whatever a cursor can do, the wand can do - such as drawing
Perhaps most interesting mong the filings imagined applications is what it refers to as the "flashlight." When this app is launched, the wand directs an imaginary "beam of light" onto the display - the area thus virtually illuminated remains bright, while the remainder of the display darkens. In this mode, the flashlight can illuminate and select various interface elements.
When the wand is tilted, aimed up or down, or moved closer to or further from the display, its "beam" reacts accordingly, changing its shape and size - even adding a dimmer shadow effect in the illuminated section further from the wand.
The wand can act as a virtual flashlight
One odd varient of the flashlight effect is its exact opposite - the "beam" sent by the wand darkens the screen rather than illuminates it. Exactly what purpose this oddball effect is meant to accomplish isn't clear. Maybe it there just because it's possible.
Think of this flashlight mode as a light-sucker
Other more-gestural wand capabilities are also described, such as rapidly flicking the wand to activate certain features or to turn the media system off. Game-playing is also a natural candidate, as Nintendo's Wii has proven - but games would be, as Apple would put it, a "third-party opportunity."
All-in-all, the remote wand as described in patent application #20090066648 is a giant leap beyond the capabilities of the current Apple Remote.
Especially if it were to be shipped for free along with a 52-inch LCD Apple television. ®