Apple is working on a true Media Center. Yes, I know, you’ve probably heard that before and it never really came true. Yes Front Row is not a true media center and other interfaces provided by third parties are not true MCs too. I fully agree with that.
But a new Apple patent filing called “Multi-media center for computing systems” describes just such application architecture. And as most of Apple innovations it’s different, elegant and works just like a true Media Center should work.
The central part of Apple Media Center is Module Controller – special software designed to act as a middleman that manages interactions between various various hardware and software apps. E.g. it can control how your iTunes music and movie collection, sitting on a Mac Pro in the working room will talk to an iPhone in your pocket; launch a the latest episode of “Lost” and via iTV display it on the LCD screen in your bedroom; or it can display a iPhoto slideshow of your latest vacation via Mac Mini connected plasma TV in your living room while playing quiet background music through your stereo.
All this can be controlled from any device having necessary input and output interfaces. It can be keyboard or mouse click from your iMac, touch gestures transmitted wirelessly from an iPhone or commands from Apple remote.
The whole system works by separating the devices and software that display and manipulate media (e.g. DVD player in the room, iPhoto application on a Mac mini) from the functions of navigation and control and putting Module Controller in between.
Each Media Component – an iPhone, Video iPod, iTV, your stereo, iTunes in your living room – has a one or several independent software modules that plugs into Module Controller. These software modules contain all associated menu items and commands for the particular devices. They are independent from each other and can be plugged in or removed as necessary.
When user turns of Media Center software, Module Controller checks what media modules are configured and available and shows them as menu items on display. The display can be part of your iMac or it can be an iPhone on Wi-Fi network.
As soon as you press a menu button for an iTV on your iPhone, Module Controller gets the command, recognizes where it’s coming from, selects software module with the iTV menus formatted to display on a small touchscreen and downloads them there. Now it’s up to you to scroll through available channels and stored movies and select what you want to watch. As soon as you make selection, Module Controller gets the command and loads the film or turns on the selected channel from your IPTV package.
This modular architecture makes the whole Apple Media Center system very flexible. The same iPhone can be used as a remote control at home and, with additional software modules that have necessary interface commands plugged in, it can become a game controller at your friends house.
All of these Media Center capabilities described in current patent may look pretty far off. But so was an iPhone when it was described in a patent application a year ago.
A lot of pieces – iTV, iPhone, Mac Mini, Apple remote – are already in place. Others are still in the works. I think that soon we can get another surprise from Apple.
A true Home Media Center solution, the way we always felt it should work. Only never thought about it.
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