The new feature of launching apps and starting videos using your voice is now live and working on the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. You can use either a voice remote or the Fire TV Remote App to say “Watch…” or “Play…” plus the name of a movie or show to immediately start a video. To start an app or game, you can say “Launch…” or “Open…” plus the software’s name. Your Fire TV or Fire TV Stick needs to be running software version 188.8.131.52 or greater for the new feature to work.
Starting videos using your voice works very well. Most movies or shows I asked for were found and started playing immediately. You don’t have to own or have access to the titles you request for them to come up. Asking to watch a movie or show you don’t own or don’t have access to through Prime or an add-on subscription will just bring up the standard info screen for the video. So prefacing a voice search with “watch” can be used to save the step of selecting the first item on the search result screen when you’re confident Alexa will find the right video, sort of like Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” search button. If you ask for a TV show that you’ve been watching, the next episode you haven’t seen yet will start to play.
Launching apps and games doesn’t work nearly as well as starting movies and shows. When it works, Alexa responds with “Here’s [APP NAME]” and launches the app. When Alexa is unsure of the app, she says “Here’s what I found” and brings up a standard search for what you said. Where it really goes south is when Alexa doesn’t realize you’re trying to launch an app and brings up a search result with the word “launch” or “open” as part of the query. Thankfully, that last scenario doesn’t happen often.
All of the most popular apps, like Netflix, HBO, and Hulu, work perfectly. It’s more hit or miss when trying to launch more obscure apps. There seems to be extra recognition built in to the feature for some apps. For example, saying “Open FX” will launch FXNOW, even though “FX” is not separate in the app’s name. Similarly, saying “Launch VLC” works, even though the app’s full name is “VLC for Fire.” But saying “Open Whole Foods Market” does not work, even though the apps exact name is “Whole Foods Market” and Alexa correctly performs a search for the exact name of the app. There are many examples like this where apps with odd names that you think will have issues end up launching just fine, but other apps that have simple names are not directly launched.
As for sideloaded apps that are not in the official Fire TV appstore, I was unable to get any of the ones I tried to launch. Saying “Open Kodi” just brings up a search. Alexa recognizes the name and spells it correctly, but the app is not launched. This was expected due to the nature of how Alexa works. The service is entirely cloud based. That means it is unaware of which apps you have installed on your device when making decisions. If an app is not in the official appstore, Alexa is unaware of its existence and therefore will never recognize it correctly unless Amazon makes major changes to how Alexa works.
This new voice feature is great for shaving off a few steps when launching specific movies or shows. Since the Fire TV is always on, you can actually ask to watch specific content while your TV is still powering on, and have it already playing the intro by the time an image appears on your screen. however, each person will have to learn for themselves which of their favorite apps work with the feature, and which ones don’t, before using it effectively to launch apps and games.