Patents Reveal Clues About Apple's Revolutionary New TV

The new device could include a Wii-like remote and revolutionary gaming abilities

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Late Tuesday afternoon, an unnamed former executive plopped in the lap of Daily Tech with a scoop about what the secretive tech company may be planning for a monumental product launch later this year. "You'll go into an Apple retail store and be able to walk out with a TV," the tipster said. "It's perfect."

Rumors about an Apple television are neither novel nor unreasonable. The Cupertino company has been in the fancy computer display business for a dozen years now--their Cinema Display was among the first flatscreen monitors available to consumers. However, the debate over whether or not Apple will up the ante and compete in the wall-mounted television market hinges on a simple question: what can Apple do that's new? According to Daily Tech's source, the company can skirt around the competition by including them in the production of a television display. And according to a handful of patents filed by Apple in the past three years, the company can break new ground by completely redefining the purpose of the television in the home. Like they did with the iPhone in 2007, Apple might not try to build a better TV; they might build a different TV, lightyears ahead of anything else on the market. Let's bounce around a few ideas about what that might look like based on Daily Tech's report and recent patent applications.

An Entertainment Nexus

The former Apple executive told Daily Tech that Apple's TV play meant more than a mounting a shiny monitor on the wall. They want to "blow Netflix and all those other guys away" with a cohesive device that will combine the current Apple TV set top box, iTunes capability and an actual display device. Currently, Apple's approach to TV includes plugging a little black box into your existing TV, routing the cable service through it and streaming either Netflix or iTunes through the third party display.

This set up sounds simple enough, but the product hasn't taken off, despite the updated model's drop in size and price. Popular Mechanics said the hamburger-sized device was "improved, still unfinished," when it launched in 2010. The existing Apple TV runs off of a pre-existing and dead simple operating system, and as a result, it lacked the ability to tap into the increasingly rich store of iOS applications. With the recent launch of iOS 5 and iCloud, however, fanboy blog Apple Insider hypothesizes that a new device could resemble a giant iPad in terms of functionality. Table the idea of touchscreen capability, and imagine a big screen device that could run not only iTunes but also news apps, email, a web browser and anything else developers can imagine. (Remember Web TV?) The new product could do away with the need for an external device and cable subscriptions altogether for TV-watchers interested mainly in shows.

A Next Generation Gaming Platform

Over the past couple of years, Apple has filed a few patents for as-yet unseen technology. In 2009, the company described a "wand" device in an approved patent application that would provide control over a cursor on a screen as well as Nintendo Wii-like 3D controls. The existing 2nd generation Apple TV, announced in September 2010, included a five-button remote that looks a little bit like a classic iPod and offers comparably restricted navigability. An update might pull in the cursor control and, with the typing support of either an iPad or a wireless keyboard, allow for a much more interactive experience.

Speaking of interactive, in 2010 Apple acquired a patent for glasses-free 3D display. Fast Company described the technology as "so advanced it sounds like sci-fi," but the implications are pretty simple. Former Sony chief Phil Harrison suggested on Tuesday that if the market continues to move the same direction, with thousands of developers moving to populate the app space, Apple could well be the future of gaming. Depending on who you talk to, 3D could be a huge part of that, and when combined with the possibility of an interactive controller, Apple could outpace both Microsoft and Sony in creating a platform for game lovers. "At this trajectory, if you extrapolate the market-share gains that they are making, forward for ten years--if they carry on unrestrained in their growth--then there's a pretty good chance that Apple will be the games industry," Harrison said.

At this point the speculation over a physical Apple TV is just that: speculation. The original source of the TV rumor quashed any objections that a full-featured Apple television display would compete with exisisting Apple products with a simple idea. "If you have to be competing with somebody, you want to be competing with yourself," he said. Given the fact that Steve Jobs has referred to Apple TV as a "hobby," it should be easy to beat, with or without 3D.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.