With lots of Google TV and other Web TV news hitting at the moment, I asked yesterday where Apple was ... and today there's a well-timed patent filing showing some new tweaks to Apple TV. These include an iPhone "simulator," suggesting Apple's bringing apps to the TV too.
The bulk of the newly revealed Apple patent points to a big refresh to the Apple TV's controls. Apple sets out a way in which its little set-top box could be controlled by third-party remotes, as well as the tiny proprietary Apple remote. And it's not just a dumb "learning remote" system either, as the patent sets out clever ways in which the Apple TV unit may be able to work out what remote you're pointing at it by algorithmically identifying the signals zipping out of its infra-red LED.
That's pretty neat, and suggests that Apple sees a good future for its set-top box, paired to your nice HDTV. But as PatentlyApple.com notes, hidden on one of the patent's images demonstrating which devices a revamped Apple TV is "paired" with is a lovely little secret. On the screen in the pic is a menu option for "iPhone simulator." It's not much, I admit ... in fact it's not very much at all to go on. But it does set one's mind wandering.
Is the menu option for a smart controller coming from a developer platform for the iPhone? In this case, it's just a clever continuation of the way you can already use the iPhone's wireless connection to remotely control iTunes on a connected computer. Or is it something rather more intriguing—does it actually hint that a future Apple TV will have a mode that simulates an iPhone? Think of the Net browsing and emailing powers this would enable, and then think about the growing tide of Net TVs that Apple may be trying to compete with. None of these competitor sets would be able to play over 200,000 apps—that's for sure.