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Is Apple's New Patent Proof of an iTV Set?

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At this year's CES, Smart TVs and media centers were presented with full force. Google (GOOG), Sony (SNE), Microsoft (MSFT), Motorola (MMI), Marvell (MRVL), Netflix (NFLX), Samsung, and LG each offered its own alternative to regular broadcast television. And while many, if not most, had their own charm and appeal, not one of the products delivered the full package that would get the average consumer to permanently cut the cord.

So now, all eyes are on Apple (AAPL) to see if it makes good on the rumors that it will soon deliver an iTV set of its own. While such a product has been rumored for years, recent rumblings has placed it within the realm of possibility.

And with this new patent uncovered by AppleInsider, it looks likelier than ever.

The news site found a patent filed by Apple last September for a universal remote app. Titled "Apparatus and Method to Facilitate Universal Remote Control," the patent lays out the ability to control a variety of devices through a touchscreen UI. The diagram lists controllable appliances such as a TV, VCR, DVD player, DVR, stereo, and an MP3 or DVD player on a computer.

Like many universal remotes with a digital display, the buttons and functions would change with each device. "The controls that are not normally used clutter the remote control and can cause confusion to the user when trying to locate a seldom-used feature," the filing reads. "Hence, users must spend time learning a new remote control or programming an existing universal remote each time they purchase a new remotely controllable appliance, which detracts from the enjoyment of using the appliance after it is first purchased."

Adding, "What is needed is an apparatus and a method to provide remote control over multiple appliances without the difficulties described above."

AppleInsider shares two diagrams included in the patent.

Of course, an app of this type is intended to work with many brands of TVs and media centers. But given its own compatible hardware that exists today, how likely is it that Apple would patent this type of technology to only work with existing Macs and Apple TV set-top boxes -- a product it still considers "a hobby?" Not too likely.

While a universal remote app probably wasn't what Steve Jobs was talking about when he said he "cracked the code" for the TV market, it's hard to assume that Apple would file a patent of this type and not follow it up with something big.

(See also: Apple Thinking Bigger With iPhone 5, Says Source and iPhone Can't Match Android's Versatility, Says Steve Wozniak)

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