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How will the TV fit into Jobs' legacy?

Apple TV Set was Jobs' Last Tech Frontier
October 23, 2011

By John P. Mello Jr.

When the authorized biography of Steve Jobs goes on sale tomorrow, it will throw more fuel on the rumor that Apple has a TV set in its product pipeline.

A smart TV was a personal obsession of Apple's co-founder, according to those who have seen pre-release copies of the biography by Walter Isaacson.

While Apple currently has a set-top box called Apple TV, which has been met with tepid market acceptance, what Jobs had in mind before his death was a much grander product. “He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant," Isaacson writes, according to the Washington Post.

Isaacson went on to pen: “'I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,' he told me.'It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.' No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.'"

The Apple TV set has been rumor fodder for years. And although Apple has filed for a number of patents in the TV domain, it has consistently referred to its interest in smart TVs as purely a "hobby." The new Jobs biography, though, suggests that a smart TV was more than that for the company. What's more, it indicates that Apple may have cleared the last obstacle to a final product.

What that obstacle was is a mystery at the moment, but a key to its solution could lie in a patent filed by Apple in June. In it, Apple describes "an advanced widget paradigm." That paradigm could be the linchpin for a TV that seamlessly syncs with all your devices.

"Apple states that they recognized a limitation of existing widget technology as applied to a TV environment -- in that conventional widgets, while often useful resources standing alone, are unaware of the media content that the TV is currently presenting," explains Apple patent watcher Jack Purcher.

What Apple says it has done in its patent, Purcher says, is create a widget paradigm where widgets can, without your intervention, provide you with access to information or other resources based on what you're watching on your TV.

"Similarly, these same resources could be caused to automatically disappear when they are no longer relevant or useful based on the currently presented portion of the media content, thereby minimizing confusion and screen clutter," Purcher explains. "As a result, the user will tend to have a more enjoyable and fulfilling viewing experience and will be spared the trouble of having to manually locate and access resources that may or may not be relevant to the content presently being presented."

It's also easy to see how Apple's Siri technology could play a role in creating the "simplest user interface you could imagine" in a TV set. What could be simpler than talking to your TV when you want it to do something? Instead of punching buttons to fast forward through commercial breaks on programs recorded on your DVR, for example, you could just say, "Move forward three minutes."

Last month, the former president of Apple's product division, Jean-Louis Gassée, declared that the Apple smart TV "is exciting and so obvious it's got to happen." Steve Jobs' biography suggests that the co-founder of Apple felt that way, too.

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