Next-gen Apple TV remote control revealed?

Apple's decision to rebrand the iPhone OS as iOS means the company intends widening its family of iOS devices far beyond the phone.

Today saw new images published which show us a tiny 1.2-inch touchscreen module emblazoned with Apple branding.


Alleged to emanate from a "deep throat" source of some kind, believes these to be genuine representations of some form of Apple component.

The site has a good track record -- previously leaked images have included the unibody MacBook Pro enclosure and the white iPhone 4.

Fo the present, then, let's assume these images are genuine.

What's it for?

This could be the screen for the much-rumored iPhone nano, a smaller version of the iPhone. Logically, this will only run a limited range of apps, as the screen is too small for some existing ones.

What is clear is that this is definitely a control system of some kind -- 9to5Mac informs us that the bottom connector seen here matches that of the Touchpad found on the MacBook Pro.

That's a strong indication that this component will turn out to be some form of touch-based interface for a future Mac, but I've a feeling this isn't quite planned, at least, not yet.

I'm not discounting the idea. I can imagine the component used in a peripheral of some kind, a touch-enabled MagicMouse with a small screen, possibly wireless, which allows you to see what you are doing, for example.

I think it is inevitable, but not immediate, that Apple will begin educating users into the idea of a touch controlled Mac, as Apple figures out just how to bring iOS into the Mac OS.

As the more evolved comments to my post yesterday reveal, there are some logical limits to touch controlled Macs.

Critics will say there's limited use for such a device on a Mac.

However, Apple's OS and its own applications are gaining increased understanding of touch and gesture-based commands with the increasingly MultiTouch MacBook/Pro trackpad and Magic Mouse.

Apple is cleary serious about touch.

Apple's magic wand

If not an iPhone nano or some kind of Mac interface, which other Apple product might find use for a small screen capable of understanding touch commands? Perhaps equipped with movement sensors...

Could this be for the Apple TV?

We know Apple's planning big moves on television. Steve Jobs has noted the need to reinvent the television industry.

Soon, Apple is expected to offer 99-cent TV shows via its soon to appear iTunes in the cloud service.

These shows will be made available to all Apple's connected devices, including the Apple TV.

In order to really combat Google's recently-revealed TV plans Apple needs to jump forward in terms of the user interface.

This time last week, the New York Times told us Apple has people working to update its TV software, and is developing a completely new interface for it.

As I've suspected for ages, there is a chance Apple "will base a new TV design on its iOS operating system".

In order to do this, it must create an iOS-savvy controller for the Apple TV.

Not everyone who might want an Apple TV will necessarily have an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch -- though I suspect these will also work as remotes with the future version of the device.

After all, as Logitech says in its marketing for its c.$250 Harmony remote control, "A full-colour touch screen, backlit buttons and an ergonomic design make it easy to get to your show—even in the dark."

Did I mention the size of the screen on that remote? Take a look.

With this in mind it is interesting to note the 2009 copyright noted on the product image above.

Games people play

Especially in light of a 2009 Apple patent which described a Wii-like wireless remote control for the Apple TV.

That patent talks about a "remote wand for controlling the operations of a media system."

Publication of that patent reinforced continued speculation that the Apple TV will one day run games.

With thousands of these already available via the App Store, why wouldn't Apple want to deliver a movement-sensitive, touch-controlled remote its customers could use to play, for example, Real Racing HD on their TV.

After all, to make some iPad games look good on TV is only a question of image upscaling.

With all this speculation in mind, I'm wondering if this might be Apple's plan for the newly-revealed component?

Sure, we could be seeing early glances of a move to product a Magic Mouse that is more like a MacBook Pro trackpad, capable of accepting both the current trackpad gestures and also of handling new commands.

Or are we looking at both?

After all -- the magic wand patent describes some pretty nifty ways of actually using applications on a TV screen.

Could we use this same remote on our Mac?

What do you think?

(And will we see The Beatles come to iTunes in our lifetimes?)

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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