Peel, iPhone TV Remote & Content Discovery

Dave Zatz —  March 28, 2011

Over the last year or so, we’ve come a long way from those initial, unsightly and simplistic iPhone IR remote control dongles. And Peel ($100) represents the next generation of virtual remote. In fact, it’s potentially a contender to replace your Harmony.

The Peel solution consists of an attractive iPhone app, a small orb-like thingy (“fruit”) that you’d place on a coffee- or end-table, and a wireless transmitter (“cable”) that connects directly one’s router. The Peel fruit and cable communicate via the ZigBee spec, as opposed to garden-variety 80211 WiFi, so the fruit may get up to 6 months of power from the included C battery. But the networking is transparent as setup is a breeze – connectivity is automatically configured with next to no intervention. Sync and go.

Configuring Peel to control the devices in your AV cabinet is also fairly efficient. It may not offer the same level of complex interactions as found with Harmony, but it also doesn’t require endless tweaking from a computer. Peel’s iPhone app quickly walks you through the process of registering your components. I had a loaner unit controlling my Panasonic plasma and FiOS DVR in just a minute or so from the couch. A minute later, I had my Roku added to the mix with the television inputs correctly mated to their respective set-tops.

The Peel app provides the appropriate virtual controls for whatever device or activity you’re using via tapping, sliding, and swiping. It’s fairly intuitive and very attractive. However, Peel emphasizes content discovery over traditional channel surfing… and therefore does away with the traditional numeric keypad. A mistake Sezmi also made. Sometimes, I just want to quickly tap out a channel. I sent an inquiry to Peel Support (through the iPhone app!) who mentioned there have been a few similar requests and it’s on their roadmap for a future release.

As with the virtual remote app elements, Peel’s content discovery presentation is very attractive. More importantly, via the initial setup or later revisions, you prioritize genres (and HD channels only!) so Peel has an idea of what to suggest – based on your channel lineup. Further, you can quickly swipe through genres to see what’s on in other categories. While you can adjust broadcast time, this sort of approach may most benefit folks without a plan. Like me. I’m obviously a DVR owner and have several Season Passes configured but, more often than not these days, I find myself browsing current and upcoming programming. In fact, my favorite feature of all of these sorts of apps is Verizon FiOS TV’s What’s Hot — my neighbors often do the hard work for me in identifying decent shows. On that social note, like every modern service, Peel allows you to share what you’re watching via Twitter or Facebook. But the current incarnation is pretty limited, only displaying the show title and linking to Peel.com.

I’d prefer that Peel didn’t require the separate networking cable and the UI flow could be tightened up, but overall I quite like the Peel experience. It exhibits far more sophistication and polish than most first generation products. And I’m not alone in my assessment. Rakesh Agrawal, a Peel customer after reading Walt Mossberg’s review and who you may know as the President of SnapStream, agrees:

The remote control problem is such a hard one and old one, it’s pretty cool to see someone come up with a different, innovative and simple solution.

Last but not least, while Peel currently provides an app designed for the iPhone or iPod Touch, both Android and iPad-optimized clients are under development.

Click to enlarge:

9 responses to Peel, iPhone TV Remote & Content Discovery

  1. If none of this makes sense, I suggest taking a look at Peel’s promotional video. It does a nice job of simply explaining their proposition.

    I should also add that Peel isn’t the only game in town. Griffin will be providing a Bluetooth IR-blaster puck (“Beacon”) to be used in conjunction with Dijit – and is something I also hope to get my hands on.

    http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/beacon

  2. does the Peel “fruit” just blast iR?

    My cabinet has 3 separate compartment, so I’d have to place Peel on a table in front, no?

  3. Yah, the Peel is essentially an IR blaster. The commands are relayed from an iPhone via WiFi through the router then on to the Peel cable and finally to the Fruit via Zigbee. If your gear is behind non-glass doors it’d be a problem.

    Another question I had for the team is could someone purchase a second Fruit for another room. But for now only the complete kit is available. So it’s not the right solution for every scenario/person. (Back in the day, I used to bring my tricked out Harmony from room to room – had all sorts of Activities, including dimming my Lutron lights for DVD viewing.)

  4. Looks like a chew toy that my dog would love.

  5. I guess I don’t really get it. I tried the Peel iPhone app a while back and didn’t really like it, the UI is just too cutesy for me. But then, I don’t watch a lot of ‘live’ TV anyway. I mostly just want a good universal remote to handle switching inputs, controlling the Tivo, Apple TV, Blu-Ray, etc.

    So… I guess the obvious question… if you ignore the live TV guide and the social parts (sorry), how does this compare as a universal remote to the existing iPhone like say, Red Eye?

  6. I dislike how they show the fruit without the cable attached to it. The idea is great – networkable device like iPod touch can hold the peel app, it finds the fruit and syncs up and then things you do on the iPod are sent via IR from the fruit. Just show the darn cable in your ads and on the website.

    Better yet would be a future version of the fruit that can use WiFi or some other wireless communication and not need the cable.

    Maybe a blueetooth adapter or perhaps even simpler – an IR capable device in the entertainmnet center that shoots IR out to the fruit and the fruit then sends the IR to the media components

  7. Glenn, Red Eye is new to me. Will check it out.

    Zeo, the Cable attaches to your router not to the Fruit. I assume the decision was made to simplify network setup and due to the enhanced battery life they feel Zigbee gives them. However I’d also prefer Bluetooth (like the Griffin Beacon) or WiFi.

  8. @Zeo,

    Agree its confusing, but the cable does NOT connect directly to the fruit. It plugs into Ethernet to get access to the internet presumably, but also to talk to your iPhone (wifi to Ethernet). Then talks to the fruit via Zigbe (low power wifi apparently).

    While I understand how most people would prefer a blob that sits on your coffee table and sends out commands via IR, I personally would prefer something that also supports at least one IR repeater output so I can just stick the thing in my cabinet. So far nobody allows this. Don’t know if the Beacon device will offer this.

  9. @Glenn: Agreed. I don’t understand why manufacturers of these products don’t include a blaster output — it can’t be that expensive to wire in a 3.5mm jack. The revised Redeye announced today includes one (as does a pro version), but the software doesn’t look nearly as good.