An Apple TV patent filing lays out how widgets could play a role in the way we watch TV. The filing is an update to an older one from 2006. In it, Apple describes how widgets could appear on-screen while people are watching an Apple TV. the widgets could provide live sport scores, news feeds, or chat functionality to talk to other viewers or friends elsewhere. Really, any widget you have on your desktop could just as easily be on your TV screen. The patent describes these widgets being triggered either by a new remote control that looks a lot like an iPod Nano, or by information in the broadcast signal itself.
Patents are a dime a dozen, and just because Apple filed this does not mean it will ever see the light of day as a product. But it does shed light on how it thinks about these problems. If you are going to merge the computer with the TV, widgets are a great way to bring bite-sized pieces of data to the screen at appropriate moments. Add some transparency effects, and they visually become like personalized graphics. Done right, they even could become a very targeted advertising vehicle, bringing the relevance of internet to the TV. (Although, the patent does not mention this). Whoever figures out how to put widgets on TVs is going to control some very valuable real estate.
The patent application number is 20080034309 and is dated February 7, 2008.