It looks like Amazon’s Silk web browser, which comes installed on their line of Fire tablets, will be coming to the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. If you sideload the tablet version of Amazon’s Silk browser onto the Fire TV, you don’t simply get a touch-based app that requires a mouse to use, like you get if you sideload Chrome or Firefox. Instead, you’re presented with a tutorial, made specifically for the Fire TV, instructing you on how to use the Fire TV’s Alexa voice remote to search and navigate the web.
Digging into the source of the Silk browser app, it’s clear that Amazon has recently begun adding support for the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. There’s a very unique solution built-in for the task of selecting webpage links on a device without a mouse or touchscreen, as well as support for embedded webpage videos that allows you to control video playback using the media buttons on the Fire TV remote. Feedback options specific to the Fire TV indicate the browser is already being tested internally by Amazon employees.
3/31/2017: It turns out the Silk browser is functional if you use another app to open links in the browser. I’ve created a simple Opener app that you can use to do this. Instructions on how to setup Opener and the Silk browser can be found here,so you can start using the browser before it’s officially released.
When the Fire tablet version of the Silk browser is launched on the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, the television device is detected and a tailor made navigation tutorial begins. The tutorial instructs you to press the select button on the remote to highlight and click the button on the screen. The tutorial appears to be a website loaded within the browser.
Amazon has decided to take a unique approach to selecting a specific link on a webpage using a remote control. Pressing the select button causes a unique set of up/down/left/right arrows to appear on each link. Clicking a link is done by pressing the sequence associated with the link you want selected. Done this way, a page with up to 64 links will require up to 3 button presses to select a link. Adding a fourth button press will cover pages with up to 256 links.
Since the Fire TV is primarily a video consumption device, special consideration has been given to embedded videos in webpages. Selecting a video causes it to play in full screen.
While a video is playing, the remote’s media buttons (play, pause, rewind, fast-forward) can be used to control playback. Pressing back exits full screen playback and returns to the web page.
The end of the tutorial instructs you to press the voice search button to search the web. This is significant because the voice search button on the Fire TV has always triggered an Alexa powered universal search that appears overtop whatever is on the screen. The Silk browser tutorial seems to indicate that, for the first time, the Fire TV’s voice search button will be mapped to a specific action within an app. Hopefully this means voice functionality will finally be opened to 3rd-party developers to allow voice input for text fields within apps.
It seems like all sessions in the Silk browser for the Fire TV may begin with a voice search. Since pressing the voice search button on my Fire TV triggers the standard universal search, as opposed to the browser search, I was not able to proceed past this point in the tutorial or use any other aspects of the browser on the Fire TV. There does not appear to be any way enter a URL using the standard onscreen keyboard. At least, not at the end of the tutorial.
Amazon employees who are beta testing the Silk browser likely have a beta version of Fire OS with code that grants in-app use of the search button, which is missing from regular Fire TVs. Pressing the menu button on the remote brings up the option to go back, forward and reload the current page. There is also an option to report issues, which will likely be removed from the final version of the browser. No other browser functionality could be accessed.
Many companies in the past have tried to bring web browsing to a TV interface, with little success. The purpose of Amazon’s Silk browser on the Fire TV is likely not for general web browsing, but is instead to grant access to streaming video that is otherwise not available in a dedicated Fire TV app. Huge thanks to AFTVnews reader David (a.k.a. goodur in the comments), for tipping me off to the hidden capabilities of Amazon’s Silk browser.