Apple was issued a new patent on Tuesday by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that appears to cover a method for organizing episodic TV content, displaying information about that content based on metadata, and then using that metadata to provide sorting options for the user.
The verbiage in the patent is inscrutable even by patent standards, but it’s possible that it relates to the late Steve Jobs’s now famous words that he had “finally cracked” the code for making TV interfaces work. It seems more likely, however, that it relates to the company’s existing Apple TV product and the way it interacts with iTunes.
Apple Patent Figure (Courtesy of PatentlyApple)
(Click the image for a larger version)
That said, the abstract for the patent, which was published by PatentlyApple, truly is obfuscated, at least to our reading. We’ll break it down and examine it line by line:
Apple’s First Patent Claim: A computer-implemented method, comprising: receiving episodic content including one or more episodes of television programs and storing the episodic content in a data store;
This first clause is straight forward. An Apple device would be able to receive and store (which could reference recording or simply storing a download from iTunes) episodic TV that it receives from a content provider. Apple doesn’t specify what kind of content provider, and it could reference the iTunes Store, or it could reference traditional TV content providers like cable or satellite companies.
receiving metadata associated with the episodic content and storing the received metadata in the data store;
This line is also quite clear. Part of the invention includes the process of getting and storing metadata for the TV show, like the description, run time, air date, actors, etc.
displaying on a display device a menu arranged in an interface environment, the menu comprising a list of menu items associated with the episodic content;
In this clause, Apple is saying that it wants to display menu items that are particular to the specific episodic TV show based on the metadata it gathered.
displaying on the display device a sort interface arranged in the interface environment, the sort interface defining a plurality of sort options and being configured to receive a selection of a sort option and to sort the list of menu items based upon the selection;
According to this clause, Apple’s method includes the ability to sort your content in variety of ways. This could include by date recorded, alphabetically, by show, or any other methods.
in response to receiving a selection of a sort option: determining whether the received metadata stored in the data store includes metadata that facilitates sorting the menu items in accordance with the sort option: in response to determining that the received metadata does include metadata that facilitates sorting the menu items in accordance with the sort option, sorting the menu items based on the received metadata in accordance with the sort option;
To our reading, the clause above simply suggests that there will be some error checking to make sure the metadata of the stored TV shows provides the information needed to sort by whatever sorting criteria the user selected, and then doing so.
and in response to determining that the received metadata does not include metadata that facilitates sorting the menu items in accordance with the sort option: extracting from the received metadata that is associated with additional metadata that facilitates sorting the menu items in accordance with the sort option;
The next step describes a way of dealing with whatever shortcomings the metadata had if there is a problem.
providing the extracted metadata to a content provider and receiving the additional metadata from the content provider in response; and sorting the menu items based on the additional metadata in accordance with the sort option; and displaying on the display device the sorted menu items.
Lastly, Apple’s method includes checking with the content provider to see if there isn’t really some more metadata out there to help this whole sorting process and getting on with the important work of sorting.
In other words, this patent’s particular emphasis is in using metadata to sort TV shows according to the user’s choice and then making sure it has done so properly.
This patent was filed in 2006, and is therefore not likely a lynch pin to Steve Jobs’s last push to find a new way to work TVs. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs titled simply Steve Jobs, the tech icon suggested that the breakthrough he felt he had achieved came in the last months of his life.
To us, it appears far more likely that the patent most likely covers Apple’s existing Apple TV and the way it interacts with the iTunes Store.