Are the app buttons on the new Fire TV remote an upgrade or a downgrade?

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.

36 comments
  1. clocks says:

    I hate how cluttered the once near-perfect remote is becoming.

    • Mark says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Such a great remote is now all ‘cluttered’ with buttons. Sticking with my original, remotes.

  2. Buchri says:

    Yep total disaster. Form follows Revenue not function.
    Once again amazon is turning us into the product.

  3. 666 says:

    Logitech Harmony, hope to never have to use any other remote system. Concerning Netflix, on the Fire Cube 2 and apparently on the Fire Stick 3, the app reproduces Atmos, on the Fire Stick 4K it does not, c’mon Netflix now that you got the button, release the Atmos for everyone!

    • Bob says:

      Yep. Harmony remote all the way. Solves all the multiple remote issues. And if I wanted to, I could program a dedicated button on it, either physical or digital, to open Netflix or any other app. But why bother? The Netflix button is always right there on the screen when I turn on the Firestick. It’s the first button in the Apps and Channels row, and visible in the Recent row if I used it last.

  4. Hebert says:

    Elias, there will be a hardware update this year?

    I meant no only for the fire TV stick 4K.

    I’m eager to purchase some hardware with AV1 hardware playback capabilities.

    Please, let me know.

    Hope all is well.

    Thanks

  5. stadi says:

    The only button that I find useful is Netflix. What I dislike the most is that they are colorful (Alexa included). If everything was black and white, it wouldn’t disturb me that much.

  6. AuburnJohn says:

    I’ve never gotten used to using them, and never have they been a convenience. The majority of times I’ve pressed them have been inadvertent, and occasionally it has disrupted a show/movie.

    That said, do you know whether these will work on an Element Fire TV? I haven’t been successful pairing a new Fire remote with the TV, and the old one has recently stopped working.

  7. K Russell says:

    So, will the live tv button allow you to switch from streaming whatever on the 4k FS to over the air channels?

  8. JP says:

    I’m of the opinion that the extra buttons are fine only if they can be reprogrammed to whatever app I want them to activate. Put a little label on the button to the correct app and off you go, better yet have a button cover to make look even better. Of course the point of the extra buttons has absolutely nothing to do with convenience,it’s all about revenue I assure you whichever service paid the most got their button on the remote. My guess is that HBOMAX will be the next new button, any takers? Last thought those extra buttons need to either be long press or double press, As @AuburnJohn mentioned it seems you’re watching something move a little ad suddenly netflix starts up, which is BTW the most inconvenient app to close why is it missing a simple double back to eit???

    • Jp says:

      I want to apologize I clearly didn’t read the entire article and just repeated many things that were already mentioned I also suffer from diarrhea of the mouth with much too long posts.

  9. Nate says:

    I see the argument both for and against dedicated hardware buttons for streaming services and am mostly indifferent on the topic as well. With your Remapper workaround, this makes my concern somewhat moot, but my question has always been – what comes of these buttons if a streaming company were to fold and/or merge with another to form a newly named entity? It can happen to any company; just go ask PS Vue subscribers on that front. Elias, perhaps it is time to look into selling some customizable, button-sized stickers on Amazon as well? ;)

    • When PSVue shut down, Amazon made it so that pressing the PSVue button on the Fire TV Edition remotes loaded the Live tab instead. That’s the only case where a Fire TV Edition remote’s app button went out of business. I assume that they would do that again if any of the services on this new remote shut down.

      • Nate says:

        Good point on the firmware push to remap the Vue button. That wasn’t something I recalled, as I haven’t ever owned a Fire TV set. That said, while unlikely we would see a mass exodus of streaming services that would be worthy of a hardware button, perhaps I am just a stickler for uniformity and would not like to see even the chance of another Vue situation coming about. If Amazon made this possible to customize on the user end, I think that would be a game changer.

    • Robert says:

      I have a Toshiba with FireTV built-in. I’ve tried 2 programs to remap them but neither work for my hardware.

  10. Dre says:

    I just wish that they were like the coloured buttons on universal remotes that then I would reprogram to be used in different apps. Otherwise like others have mentioned the Home Screen already advertises these apps with screen real estate for money, I don’t need it on the remote.

  11. Dewi Williams says:

    Ummm don’t you think the source button should be more important to have???? Thinking bout loud

  12. Philip Haas says:

    They app buttons should be at the top of the remote so you don’t accidentally hit them.

  13. Matt says:

    Absolutely terrible idea. One of the reasons I went FireTV over Roku in my house was because of channel buttons. Everyone sells out eventually.

  14. Y2Bogus says:

    App Shortcuts are always a mixed bag. Only once did I ever find a remote with all 4 app shortcuts being ones that I actively used and that was a cheap IR Roku remote from China that I got on Aliexpress with Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, and Youtube.

    In a perfect world, you’d be able to order this customized from Amazon.com with 4 shortcuts of your choosing, but I know that will never happen.

    • Raphael Salgado says:

      Amazon is master of e-ink with their Kindles. Why can’t they implement e-ink buttons that can be customized?

  15. clocks says:

    If Amazon is going to have all these buttons, they need to backlight them or something. A couple years ago, I used to be able to use the remote without looking at it. With it being this cluttered, in a dark or dimly lite room I need to hold the remote up to my face to see what buttons I am pressing. This isn’t an improvement.

    Also, it literally takes like 1-2 seconds to hit the home key, and select the app you want, which should be in your recently used list. This app buttons are not needed.

  16. Rolph Job says:

    Shouldn’t have messed up a perfectly good remote. Why were they put in the middle with the normal function buttons? Should have put up top out of the way. Most will add a firestick for another tv not buy for the first time and so the remotes will be different at each tv. Bad, bad, bad

  17. Danner says:

    I like the live tv button (because the Fire TV UI to get to live TV is awful) but the app buttons feel like overkill. Amazon’s universal/alexa search already searches Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus. Why do I need specific buttons for those?

  18. Rik Emmett says:

    At a minimum, the user should be able to disable these buttons, so they don’t inadvertently launch one of these apps that they do not subscribe to.

  19. Robert says:

    I have mixed feelings. I like the Netflix button as I use it but the others are just wasted, especially the PS Vue button, since the service is now defunct. I have a Toshiba with FireTV built-in. I’ve tried 2 programs to remap them but neither work for my hardware.

  20. Pat Vee says:

    I can’t believe there is this much discussion let alone an entire article about a remote. My Toshiba Fire TV came with the Prime, HBO, Netflix and PlayStation buttons and all I thought was, cool. I have them, I can go right to them. Don’t even have to turn on the TV first. Works for me! ‍♀️

  21. Brandy says:

    I have roku and fire.
    My roku has the extra buttons, but I don’t use them. And my fire remote doesn’t have extra buttons and I only have had it a few months. I got the fire service Because I wanted hbomax, and at the time roku didn’t offer that app on it’s service. In the case of extra app specific buttons, they don’t bother me. I use my home screen to locate my apps.

  22. James Klein says:

    A more versatile solution would be a remote that offers APP buttons that are labeled via LED letters according to user specifications.

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