Peel brings wireless home-theater control to iPhone

When is a fruit not a fruit? When it's a hardware add-on that lets your iPhone control your home-entertainment system without any cable clutter.

On Wednesday, Peel Technologies—makers of an app that helps users find their favorite television programs—introduced hardware to turn that app into a universal remote. While the new "Peel fruit" hardware is unusual, so is the company's plan for how it will initially sell the product.

In a press release, the company said it will sell two pieces of equipment—the "fruit" and a small wireless adapter. The fruit—which is designed to blend in with comfy home environments—must sit within line-of-sight of the entertainment system that it controls. The adapter plugs into a power outlet and an ethernet port on your home network, and relays commands from your iPhone wirelessly to the fruit. No wired attachments are needed for the iPhone or the fruit—the adapter relays volume, channel-changing, and menu commands to the fruit, which redirects those orders to TVs, DVD players, cable and satellite boxes, and Internet-connected devices like the Apple TV.  The system was designed by Yves Behar, the man behind the Jawbone Bluetooth Headset.

Now here's the odd part: Initially the system will be sold directly from Peel's Web site—with customers essentially bidding against each other for a “limited” number of units. (As of early Thursday afternoon, Peel's Web site was not yet taking orders.) After those first units are sold, more will be made available online and in retail stores.

Even without the hardware, though, the Peel app is still useful. Launched in October, it makes TV and video recommendations to users based on available programming sources—cable, satellite or other inputs—and refines those recommendations based on programs that a user marks as "favorite," or shares via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. An upgraded version of the app debuted Tuesday with user-interface improvements.

The app is free and compatible with any iPhone, iPad or iTouch running iOS 3.0 or later.

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