27.07.15

Apple Remote Patent Application Sparks Home Automation Theories

When a company that people follow as closely and passionately as Apple does just about anything that hints at new products, the global rumour mill is likely to move into hyper-drive.

appleTVSo it was last week when it was discovered that Apple has filed a patent application for a remote control that is touch ID sensitive such that the device under control can validate if the user is authorised for the device at all. And, if authorised, which level of functions are permitted and/or which devices may be controlled.

On the face of it, the idea covered in the patent application could certainly be viable. Imagine being able to have a biometric sensor for security and the software to provide parental control, increased ability to integrate with home automation or home health devices with access control, the ability to control content service access and more.

That’s great, and the Apple-fan blogosphere can easily get whipped up into a frenzy with predictions. Does this mean that a new Apple TV is imminent and that it will use this as the remote? Perhaps, but a remote, alone, does not a product make. The widely reported patent application is one of three just published that is the work of the same inventors on this topic and all assigned to Apple. Clearly, this is an area of interest for all of us, but to avoid confusion and misdirection, we urge caution to the following while applauding the idea.
  • As we always suggest, the blogs may or may not be any more accurate than our own reporting and analysis. Better to read the patent application yourself by searching at USPTO.GOV. An image of one of the key patents may be found here: http://1.usa.gov/1HU0sWc
  • Remember that a good patent is written as broadly as possible to assure that the maximum coverage and idea protection is granted should the patent issue. What you read may be part of a final product or not.
  • That particularly goes for the pictures in the patent or patent application. The picture in this one of the trio of recent applications http://1.usa.gov/1HU0sWc that has been widely reproduced shows the remote as a small single square with a touch sensor. Yes, the invention could appear that way but we find it unlikely. Along with the sensor that drives the main concept of the application, even the most elegant and simple remote will have at least a few other buttons and controls along with ID that is more in keeping with Apple’s style guidelines. In other words, to paraphrase the old cliché, “What you see [in the patent or application] may NOT be what you get.”
  • A patent application does not mean that the patent will issue as written, or sometimes even issue at all. Based on how the final patent reads, some of the ideas may not be allowed in and thus able to be used by anyone or they may be found to be protected by competing patents.
Don’t get us wrong. We see much merit in the ideas in this patent and look to it as an indication of where the market for system remote control may be headed. On the other hand, we also urge caution about betting on that precise idea being available any time soon or at least in the exact form described. With Apple’s cloak of secrecy the product could appear at their next logical introduction date window this fall, after that in February, 2016, or perhaps never. We love to speculate as much as the next person; after all, it is part of the news and analysis we present within HiddenWires. On the other hand, view it cautiously and carefully before telling a client to “…wait for this great new Apple Biometric Remote that is coming soon…” Don’t let rumours, early stage leaks, prognostications and guesses about Apple take a bite out of your business!

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group, follow him on Twitter @captnvid.