Good news for Ted Lasso fans with Roku devices: You’ll soon be able to watch the show on the Apple TV+ app faster than ever. As part of a refresh to the Roku product line unveiled Tuesday, future Roku remote controls will now feature a dedicated Apple TV+ shortcut button. Roku offers just four such buttons on its remotes, making them incredibly valuable real estate for platforms, which actually pay Roku for the right to be included. Apple TV+ will now share space on new Roku remotes with Netflix, Hulu and Disney+; Sling TVt has been sent to streaming Siberia.
The branding agreement with Apple will be seen first on the company’s brand-spanking new Roku Voice Remote Pro, a $29.99 device which goes on sale today at Roku.com and is scheduled to hit retailers next month. While Roku remotes have supported voice commands for some time now, users had to press a button before speaking. The Pro, much like Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant, will be hands-free, allowing folks to simply say “Hey Roku” in order to call up a show or perform other remote functions. (If you don’t want another device listening in, you can disable the hands-free option and prompt voice control via button.) It also has a tracking device built in (so if the remote is misplaced, you can find it via voice command or Roku’s mobile app), as well as a headphone jack for private listening and two programmable shortcut buttons (in case you still need quick access to Sling TV, or, say Amazon Prime Video.) And, in a first for Roku remotes, the Pro can be recharged via micro-USB, ending the need to replace batteries every few months.
While Apple has its own massive ecosystem (and streaming device) with which to promote Apple TV+, the company’s decision to partner with Roku for a spot on the latter’s remotes underscores both Roku’s importance in the streaming universe (its players are the most widely distributed in the U.S.) and Apple’s desire to make sure TV+ isn’t seen as a product tied exclusively to Apple’s own hardware devices. Having a TV+ button on millions of Roku remote controls will serve as a daily advertisement for the platform, nudging those without the service to check it out (and perhaps to let them know they don’t need to own an Apple product or Apple TV device to stream shows from TV+.)
In other news from Roku:
➽The company today is launching a new operating system (Roku OS 10) with several significant upgrades. The new Instant Resume feature allows users to restart a show or channel where they last left off, rather than having to work through a series of menu choices when they reopen an app. For now, only about 15 platforms (including AT&T TV, Starz and the Roku Channel) support Instant Resume, but the company says many more will be added in the weeks ahead. OS10 also allows users to customize the Live Channel Guide found in Roku’s live streaming ecosphere and features automatic WiFi network detection and a redesigned voice search interface.)
➽The Roku Premiere player is being upgraded and renamed the Roku Express 4k+. The company says its new entry-level device will have more storage space (for faster app loading), faster WiFi speeds and a standard voice remote. Available next month, the Express 4K+ will retail for $39.99, a $5 bump from the old Premiere unit. (Roku will continue to sell an Express unit without the voice remote for $34.99, but only at Walmart.)
➽Also next month, Roku will replace its Smart Soundbar with the Streambar Pro. The combination soundbar/streaming box isn’t that different from the old model, but it does have a slightly better remote control (with a private listening jack, headphones and shortcut buttons, but not hands-free voice control.) It also comes standard with the ability to access a new virtual surround sound option being rolled out in the latest version of the Roku OS. (Existing Smart Soundbar owners will get the virtual surround upgrade, too.)