- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011


You have an Apple iPhone, and you have a flat-panel TV, a home sound system perhaps and certainly a cable/satellite box with a digital video recorder, or DVR. Maybe you also own a Roku player or an Apple TV to stream additional video content to the aforementioned TV.

Want to guess how many remote controls you have? Three or four, perhaps, and maybe more if you have extra gear hooked up to everything. Wouldn’t you rather have just one remote, especially if it could be, say, that iPhone, or maybe an Android phone?

This is — and simultaneously isn’t — the concept behind Peel, a $99 device that sits between your wireless router, your television and the rest of your home entertainment setup. Plug a cable-cum-transmitter into your home network’s wireless router, place the pear-shaped “fruit” by your TV, enter a simple access code into the free Peel app available now for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and soon for Android, and you’re good to go. Peel will, its makers claim, control your TV, cable box, digital video recorder, and home stereo system, at a price that’s less than many competitors ask.

According to Peel CEO Thiru Arunachalam, the device, once installed, will let users do “everything a consumer will do on a daily basis” with that warren of individual remote controls.

Well, yes, Mr. Aryunachalam, and no. Instead of what is a “standard” for universal remote control devices, the ability to punch in channel numbers and go to Food Network or MTV or ESPN, you’re offered a range of pictures: an icon for “Law and Order” will find all the episodes currently airing, ditto for a sports program or what have you. Peel’s CEO claims “the concept of channel numbers will go away,” as consumers move to time-shifted recordings of baseball games, streaming rentals from Netflix and downloads via Roku, and so forth.

That may well be the case, and the band Choking Victim’s “500 channels of a day-dream stimulation” will be numberless at some point in the future. For now, most of us watch Fox 45 or USA9 and so on. Hardcore HGTV fans on Verizon FiOS in Howard County know it’s channel 665, and that HBO begins at 901.

Thus, the inability to tap in a number is a bit of a problem, but Mr. Aryunachalam asserts that two soon-coming tweaks: the ability to establish an unlimited number of “favorite” channels — one or two taps on the iPhone screen and you’re there; and a way to search via channel number. Again, tap twice and you switch over.

The channel-number-is-dying postulate comes, Mr. Aryunachalam said in a telephone interview, from what smartphones have done to dialing. Instead of memorizing your brother-in-law’s number, you call up his name in your contact list, tap on the appropriate number, and it’s “dialed.”

I feel as if I might need an Excedrin or two, and soon.

In very limited testing — I installed Peel after my less-than-three-years-old Logitech Harmony One remote’s LCD screen suddenly died — Peel seems to work well, but not as well as one might hope. The search-by-icon paradigm is off-putting to some users, and the lack of a way to directly input a channel number is frustrating. Ditto for no easy means of punching up an on-screen guide to make station selection a tad easier.

Mr. Aryunachalam is smart enough to recognize that customer demand will drive his firm’s actions. If enough Peel users demand a remote that’s more traditional, he’ll rework the software in that direction. And there are other firms who are angling to supply the same market; I know of two, one of whom, Gear4, said they would send a device for testing. TiVo users can also download an application called Peanut, which, if the DVR is connected to your home wireless network, will mimic a classic TiVo remote control.

We’re on the cusp of bringing everything together on an iPhone, iPad or Android tablet. Until that digital nirvana arrives, Peel makes for an interesting, if sometimes frustrating, step in the right direction. Details on the product are at www.peel.com.

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