Apple wants a universal remote

An interesting new patent application filed by Apple in September 2011 has surfaced.

The patent app – obtained by AppleInsider – describes a new universal remote control system that seems uniquely Apple.


Titled “Apparatus and Method to Facilitate Universal Remote Control,” the application goes on to outline a universal remote control with an intuitive UI capable of controlling more than just a TV. 

Interestingly enough, before Steve Jobs died he told his biographer that he had managed to “crack the code” for a TV with a very simple interface. 

I can’t help but wonder if this is the simple interface Jobs was talking about.

I mean, think about it: most of the remote controls we are familiar with today have way too many confusing buttons and functions. 

I think everyone can agree that we generally only use a handful of those buttons or functions on a single universal remote.

As Apple notes in its patent app, “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.”

Essentially, Apple’s approach to a universal remote is a touchscreen unit that eliminates extra buttons and is capable of controlling multiple devices. 

IMHO, one of the coolest things the patent app mentions is the way the universal remote would be automatically programmed. Meaning, the remote would send out a signal to search for devices that it can control – offering users a simple UI and the most appropriate options for any given device.

“Users [typically] 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,” the patent app reads. “What is needed is an apparatus and a method to provide remote control over multiple appliances without the difficulties described above.”


As noted, the remote would obviously control more than home theater gear, and would likely be capable of interacting with various home automation systems, appliances and even PCs. However, as cool as Apple’s theoretical universal remote control sounds, I can personally see some potential issues with a remote that boasts a touchscreen.


As Logitech found out with some of its touchscreen Harmony remote controls, many users rarely actually look at the display. Meaning, we know where the buttons are by feel and can turn up the volume and change channels without having to see the remote. A touchscreen lacking buttons or tactile feedback always requires the user to look down.