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Peel pivots, updates free iPhone app with interactive TV show polling

The Silicon-Valley startup, known for its pear-shaped "smart" TV remote, will test out its new real-time polling feature with "American Idol" this week.

The free Peel app's new interactive polling feature will debut with American Idol this week (click to enlarge). Peel

Last year Peel set out to redefine the remote-control space with a $99 fruit-shaped device that allowed you use your iPhone as a remote for changing channels and discovering TV shows. The Silicon-Valley based company got a lot of attention but the device didn't exactly set the market on fire. So Peel's shifting gears, adding a new interactive polling feature to its free app that will debut with this week's "American Idol."

The idea is pretty simple. As contestants perform, users will be able "cheer" or "boo" during performances by clicking on corresponding virtual buttons on their iPhones. You can also react to judges' comments.

The app will tally "results" in real time and provide a leaderboard for the evening's performances. Whether the app will be able to predict who gets voted off the show is anybody's guess, but Peel hopes to have thousands--or even hundreds of thousands--of users "voting" before the show's season finale.

For now, anyway, the hardware will stick around but the company is clearly moving away from being defined as just another iPhone remote with a fruity twist. According to Peel's VP of marketing, Scott Ellis, who met with us in New York and gave us a demo of the updated app, American Idol is just a start for a more ambitious plan to add interactive polling to different types of TV shows.

Now you can judge the judges (click to enlarge). Peel

Peel isn't the first company to do this (Miso, social TV startup, has had voting in its app for a while), but by tying its launch to "American Idol" in a big way, Peel hopes to get a jump on competitors and become a leader in what's known as the second-screen engagement market.

"The new feature obviously lends itself well to a contest format like 'American Idol'," said Ellis. "But it has plenty of other applications, including sports and political events."

While interactive polling is an important new feature, Ellis said discovery and recently added social media features will remain a big part of the Peel equation. How the producers of "American Idol" (and Fox) will respond to this is unclear, but Peel didn't ask anybody's permission and Ellis told us he's confident the company is on firm legal ground.

As you can see from the screenshots, the company is also linking to "Idol" performers' songs in iTunes. Peel gets a tiny cut on songs purchased through its app but it currently isn't making a concerted effort to monetize its audience; it's just trying to build it.

"For the time being we're focused on getting people to use the app and making sure it's a smooth experience for the user," said Ellis.

Alas, Peel currently doesn't have an iPad app (it's been promising one for a while) and only has version 1.0 Android app app that's missing the social features, as well as the interactive polling option (the Peel remote was integrated into the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus tablet, which has an IR blaster). The company hasn't given a date for an iPad or updated Android app but it's working on both.