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.
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