Roku has some major moves planned for 2018.
The California-based streaming media company announced it will grow its licensing program from things like TVs to soundbars and smart speakers, and, as part of this effort, it will also launch a voice assistant called Roku Entertainment Voice. It clearly has Amazon Alexa in its sights and wants to be a key player when it comes to controlling people's entertainment experiences at home.
Manufacturers can soon make 'Roku speakers'
Roku is merely making announcements right now, though it plans to release reference designs for soundbars and Wi-Fi connected speakers, with the purpose of making it easier for speaker manufacturers to start making Roku wares. It will also release a "Roku Connect" software, which will have its own set of hardware requirements but will allow other companies' products to connect with Roku's system.
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Roku is developing an assistant for its wares
The company further plans to show off actual devices next week at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, where Pocket-lint hopes to bring you show floor coverage. As for that voice assistant, Roku said we can expect it by autumn 2018. It will be launched as a free software update to existing Roku TVs and streaming media players. Keep in mind it's separate from the voice control setup Roku already uses.
Roku customers can use voice control with a Roku remote or the Roku mobile app to find content on a TV, whereas Roku's all-new voice assistant would use natural language processing to spot your requests and serve up content across different Roku devices, even if your TV is off. Roku clearly sees a path forward from being a company that sells its own players to more of an Amazon Alexa-like platform.
Roku is essentially expanding its licensing program
Roku started out its licensing program by opening its TV operating system to other manufacturers in 2014, via partnerships with TCL and Hisense, which resulted in so-called Roku TVs, or affordable smart TVs that ran on Roku’s operating system and displayed Roku's interface. Now, there are nine TV brands offering Roku TVs, with Magnavox being the latest (and part of Roku's CES 2018 announcements).
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Roku sees this path as a way to acquire accounts
According to The Verge, which spoke to Roku executive Mark Ely, Roku wants to expand its OS and assistant to new devices like speakers, sort of how Amazon allows other companies to build Alexa-powered speakers, because it is “the fastest way to acquire active accounts,” even more so than selling media players. But he also stressed that the Roku Entertainment Assistant will be all about serving up content.
It won't do web searches or weather updates and things like that.