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Roku isn’t backing down from Amazon, plans ambitious product

by Justin Herrick | September 19, 2017September 19, 2017 9:00 am PDT

Digital assistants started on mobile devices, and now they’re moving into our homes. We’ve already seen Amazon, Google, and Apple introduce their own takes on what a home-based smart speaker should be. Companies like Samsung and Microsoft are also expected to release similar devices in the not-too-distant future. And now we’re learning that a competitor to the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod is in development at a company known for its home entertainment products.

Roku, which plans to go public later this month, is exploring the viability of creating its own smart speaker. Multiple job listings reveal the company is hiring for an audio-related product that has yet to be announced. Both hardware and software positions are open, and Roku is also looking at bringing in people with voice recognition experience. Any new employees will be those who joined Roku in recent months and have started on the unidentified project.

The fact that the company is looking for people to work on audio hardware, audio software, and voice recognition makes it quite obvious a smart speaker or something similar is in the works. It’s the perfect time, too.

Roku created one of the first mainstream set-top boxes for video streaming. Before the Chromecast or Fire TV arrived, Roku dominated the scene. It released low-cost set-top boxes that had apps to stream content from a number of sources. Then, alongside rising competition, the company created more expensive hardware to keep up with industry trends like 4K and HDR. Now there’s a Roku device for every budget.

The home entertainment space is more crowded than ever. That’s why Roku got into a partnership with TCL and others to have its software pre-installed on select televisions. Unfortunately, the margins on the televisions are extremely light, so Roku is still seeking the next step as it prepares to file for an initial public offering. Creating its own hardware generates larger margins for Roku than licensing the software out and provides a hopeful outlook for investors.

It should also be noted that Roku might not actually make a smart speaker. The device being developed by the company could end up being another set-top box, but it’d be similar to the Alexa-based Fire TV coming from Amazon in the near future. Roku might be planning a set-top box that can be controlled by your voice without the need for a physical remote. A sound bar to pair with your television is possible though unlikely.

Whatever it is, it should debut before holiday shopping begins. Roku often makes jumps back into the spotlight around Black Friday when people are usually shopping for media players.

Variety

Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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