Generally, we stay away from reporting on newly awarded patents, because so much of them never come to light, and are filed on anything and everything that a company can think of. This one is a bit different, because it hints at a much more robust Apple TV ecosystem.
The patent was spotted by CNET, and was filed in 2006, having only just been awarded. It’s actually for a unified menu system that would pop up over a playing video, allowing you to essentially “change channel”. The images for it show a unified list of shows from various different networks (ca 2006) including network logos.
The patent more directly applies to how the menu would function, and allow a great many controls from a simple control scheme, but that channel list? Therein lie the possibilities.
Apple TV is currently straddling an interesting position in Apple’s ecosystem. While we keep hearing rumors of a full Apple television set, there’s been no hard evidence to speak of, and while the rumors keep percolating, nothing has been proven. The closest thing we have are just reports, and Jobs famed quote that he “finally cracked” TV.
A cable-enabled Apple TV could theoretically be that device, something that would allow Apple to directly ally with the content providers to get their stuff onto the Apple TV — like iTunes video, but direct. Since these are just illustrations in a patent application, there’s not really anything hard here, but it shows that Apple is at least thinking about how to get cable shows onto the Apple TV