Apple is going to launch a range of TV sets this year. Of this, everyone’s pretty certain. Thing is, where will that leave the Apple TV box? The current line of thinking is that it’ll act as a lesser-specced option. After all, why would you buy a new TV when you can get the same features for £99? But if newly revealed Apple patent applications are anything to go by, this could be wrong. Allow us to explain…

Apple’s in a bit of a tough situation. It’s got to decide just how clever to make the Apple TV box, and where it lives in a world with real, proper Apple HD TV sets. What we can say with some confidence is that there’s more coming to the little black box then is currently offered. There’s something about the way the icons in the most recent update sit that suggests more functionality is on the way.

So, if Apple is ploughing on with the set top box and it becomes the default way in which we scour and watch TV, we’re going to need to be able to control it easily. And that’s where the patent application comes in.

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Patently Apple has uncovered a really inventive plan that incorporates several of Apple’s existing properties. So what’s the solution? Essentially, Apple wants your iPhone or iPad to  replace the remote control that came with your TV.

The patent application depicts a universal remote system. The idea is that you use the iSight camera on your iOS device take a photo of your TV’s remote. This flies up into iCloud where it’s stored and  – just as with iTunes Match – a rejigged, iOS-friendly version comes back down that nestles within the existing Remote app.

Elaborate, right? It really is, but it’s not the complexity of the patent application that’s interesting, it’s that Apple would even bother at all. It’s kind of like a backup plan for customers who don’t want to wade into the full experience that’ll be offered by the HD TV sets.

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Venturing down into the universal remote market is a weird move for Apple, because it’s the company acknowledging that other, non-Apple devices exist and are owned by its customers – something that it’s never keen to do. Will the Apple HD TVs be an expensive, niche option rather than the mainstream, playing the Mac Pro to the Apple TV box’s iMac? Check out the full patent and let us know your thoughts below.

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