With Idol app, Peel gets ready to ditch its hardware

Second screen startup Peel is best known for its pear-shaped universal remote control, but the company is getting ready for a time where it won’t be selling any hardware anymore. The latest step towards this direction is a new version of its iOS (s AAPL) app, which comes with a neat voting feature for American Idol that is only the first of a number of planned engagement platforms around competitive content from reality shows to sports to elections.

Peel’s new app is inviting you to press buttons labeled “Booo!” and “Cheer!” during any of the show’s performances. Viewers can also cheer or protest any of the judges and their comments, and Peel promises to aggregate the votes of their users in real time, offering an instantaneous take on who’s gonna make it into Idol’s next round. The direct engagement feature comes two months after Peel added social functionality to its app at CES.

Peel initially got a lot of press for its universal remote control, which combines an iPhone with a pear-shaped IR blaster capable of controlling devices like a cable box or a Roku. However, Peel’s VP of Marketing Scott Ellis told me during an in-person demo of the new app last week that the company has no illusions about the future of this market. “In the long term, control becomes a commodity,” he said.

Peel already took a step past its IR blaster with a partnership with Samsung, which has IR functionality built onto some of its Android(s GOOG) tablets, and he’s sure that others will follow suit. However, he didn’t seem too worried about this. “If we don’t have to sell a consumer product … even better,” he told me.

Of course, Peel isn’t the only one who’s offering second screen engagement around competitive reality content. Social TV startup Miso added voting features to its mobile app a year ago, for example.

Still, Ellis said Peel has seen a lot of interest in the new feature, and there are plenty of possibilities to monetize real-time engagement during a TV show. Peel’s app doesn’t currently come with any ads, but TV networks could possibly partner with the company to serve ads on the second screen; or Peel could sell ads directly, making it possible to show Pepsi (s PEP) ads on the second screen while Idol promotes its long-time sponsor Coke. (s KO)

Peel raised a Series B of $16.7 million last year. The company currently employs 28 people.

Check out some screenshots of the new Peel iOS app below: