This is one example of interoperability that I didn’t expect to see anytime soon: Roku has announced that within the next few weeks, consumers will be able to control its streaming boxes, sticks, and Roku TVs by using Google Assistant voice commands.
Users will be able to launch specific streaming apps, control playback (play/pause/etc.), search for content, and “go home” by talking to a nearby Google Home speaker or to Assistant on their mobile phone. For Roku TV owners, voice commands will also support powering their TV on or off, adjusting the volume, changing inputs, or tuning to a specific channel received by an attached antenna. This also opens up a lot of potential for incorporating Roku hardware into your Google Assistant routines.
Roku’s own voice remote, which comes bundled with some of its products, already offers universal search that aggregates content from popular streaming services. (You can launch channels, ask for films starring a specific actor, or say something like “show me documentaries on Hulu,” for example.) For customers who don’t have a voice remote, the Roku smartphone app is capable of the same functionality. And the company’s upcoming TV speakers will also include a puck-shaped Roku Touch remote that lets users save frequent voice commands or searches and assign them to a hardware button as a shortcut.
Embracing Google Assistant shows that Roku isn’t afraid of opening up its platform — albeit just a tiny bit. Roku’s voice technology might be adept at finding a movie or show to watch, but it’s nowhere near as smart or well-rounded as Assistant. Unfortunately for those who prefer Alexa, there’s no word on whether Roku plans to bring Amazon into the fold as well.
Aside from the coming Google Assistant compatibility, Roku is also announcing several other software-related bits of news. First, Spotify is coming back after pulling its app off the platform late last year. At the time, Spotify basically admitted that the user experience it delivered on Roku wasn’t up to the company’s standards and that it expected to return with “a much better” app. That’s now happening, and it delivers pretty much what you’d expect. Separately, Pandora’s Roku app is adding support for the service’s Premium tier.
Other software features coming to Roku streaming players and TVs over the next few months include:
- “Free _____” voice search: You’ll be able to tell your Roku voice remote to “show me free comedies” or whatever other genre you want, and the OS will pull down anything you can stream for free that meets your criteria.
- Automatic Volume Leveling and Speech Clarity: These two will apply to people who have both a Roku TV and the Roku Wireless Speakers. Auto volume leveling will prevent a jarring transition between content and commercial breaks or between different streaming apps. Night mode will preserve the sanity of your roommates and neighbors in the evening. And speech clarity will emphasize dialogue to help make up for the lack of a center channel in Roku’s speaker setup.
- Control Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn with voice: Roku is adding voice commands for these three music apps.