Amazon has released a new Fire TV remote and the most significant change, compared to the older remote, is the addition of four app shortcut buttons. The question of whether app buttons are good or bad often leads to a heated debate among streaming device owners. On one hand, they’re great because they give you a quicker and easier way to open apps by utilizing otherwise unused space on a remote. On the other hand, they act as a persistent advertisement for the apps they launch, which you may never use. I’d love to hear your thoughts as we understand these buttons further.
It’s generally assumed that streaming services pay device manufacturers for a dedicated app button on a remote, although, I’ve never seen either party explicitly state that to be the case. However, Netflix buttons, which are easily the most common ones you’ll see on a remote, seem to be a unique case. I was once told by a very trusted source that Netflix requires a dedicated button or they will not allow their app on the streaming device, but I’ve never seen Netflix or a device manufacturer publicly admit to that. If that’s true, Netflix may not pay for their button at all, and, instead, may just receive it for free due to the leverage they hold over streaming device manufacturers.
Before today, no stand-alone Fire TV remote had app buttons. The first Fire TV Edition television remote was shown off at CES 2017 without any app buttons, but it gained a Prime Video, Amazon Music, and, you guessed it, Netflix button by the time it was released a few months later. Every Fire TV Edition remote since has had app buttons. The NVIDIA Shield TV went 4 years without app buttons on its remote until they released a new remote in 2019 with a single app button for Netflix. The Tivo Stream 4K and many other less popular streaming devices also have only a Netflix app button. The 2020 Chromecast with Google TV has a YouTube and a Netflix button. Lastly, all Rokus have four app buttons, with the first one always being Netflix. Now that some stand-alone Fire TV remotes have app buttons, that leaves Apple TV as the last major streaming device that doesn’t have app buttons on its remote.
So, are app buttons on remotes inherently bad if manufacturers are paid to place them, or worse, strongarmed to have them? The argument in favor of app buttons is that they can add convenience with little to no downside. If you happen to use the services featured on the app buttons of a remote, it’s usually the quickest way to launch that app. If you don’t happen to use the service, you haven’t given much up apart from a bit of otherwise unused space on your remote.
I’m personally undecided on whether app buttons are good or bad. I, like many, would be all for them if they could be customized to open the apps of my choosing, without resorting to workarounds like my Remapper app. It does make sense that they can’t be customized if there is some sort of agreement, and possible money, being exchanged for their placement. However, that doesn’t make the uselss ones any more tollerable, especially when they get pressed accidentally and take me away from what I meant to do.
How do you feel about app buttons? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.