Amazon‘s popular Fire TV streaming devices have long offered a simple way to customize the shortcut buttons on the Alexa Voice Remote. But after a recent software update, Amazon abruptly blocked the ability to remap these buttons, removing a popular feature many users relied on. This change reflects Amazon‘s increasing efforts to restrict options and lock down their Fire TV platform.
The Alexa Voice Remote that accompanies Fire TV Stick devices provides quick access buttons for services like Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+. For many users though, these predefined apps don’t match their most-used services.
That‘s where a simple but powerful app called Remapper came in. Created by the Fire TV enthusiast site AFTVNews, Remapper allowed changing the shortcut buttons to launch any apps the owner desired. If you primarily used Plex, Kodi, or YouTube instead of the defaults, you could easily set that up.
This customization offered a more personalized experience tailored to each user‘s viewing habits. Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all interface, it provided choice – something the Firestick otherwise lacks compared to more open platforms like Android TV.
Amazon‘s Latest Crackdown
However, Firestick 4K Max owners recently found Remapper stopped working after installing a new Amazon system update. The buttons reverted to the defaults with no way to reassign them.
It appears Amazon pushed an over-the-air firmware update that disabled this functionality at the system level. Based on past precedent, the change will likely reach other Firestick models soon.
This follows a long pattern of Amazon progressively eliminating customization options and unapproved modifications to Fire TV devices:
2015 – Amazon begins blocking installation of third-party app stores like Aptoide TV that enable sideloading unofficial apps
2016 – Introduction of automatic, forced firmware updates removes users‘ control over managing their own devices
2019 – External browser support removed, limiting access beyond Amazon‘s walled garden
2022 – Various methods to stop forced automatic updates blocked
The message is clear: Amazon wants customers restricted to only using Fire TV devices as Amazon intends. Allowing owners to customize their experience gives them freedom to step outside the official Amazon ecosystem.
By shutting down the popular Remapper utility, Amazon regains complete control over the Firestick‘s interface and functionality. No more circumventing their prescribed defaults.
Given its usefulness, Amazon‘s decision has frustrated many in the Fire TV community. A redditor summed up the reaction: "I canceled Prime simply due to Amazon‘s anti-consumer and anti-competitive behavior. It‘s absurd I can‘t remap buttons on a device I own."
Others argue that since Amazon manufactures the Firestick, they have every right to manage its features as they see fit. If you don‘t like it, you can buy a different device.
But from the consumer perspective, it feels like Amazon is taking away functionality people relied on for no justifiable reason other than protecting their walled garden ecosystem.
You bought the device – shouldn‘t you be able to customize the experience to suit your personal needs? Users accepted certain limitations when purchasing an Amazon product, but losing existing capabilities feels like overreach.
The only official option Amazon offers for customizing shortcut buttons is the premium Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which costs $35 – nearly the price of a full Fire TV Stick.
Many owners are reluctant to replace a perfectly functional remote just to restore customization access Amazon already provided then revoked.
Shifting to More Open Platforms
Because of frustrations like this, some Fire TV users are migrating to more open streaming platforms. Devices running pure Android TV software from companies like Sony, Nvidia, and Google allow sideloading virtually any app and provide extensive customization options.
For example, button mapping utilities work across all buttons and services on Android TV remotes. You could even launch smart home routines or third party apps rather than just streaming services.
And alternative home screen launchers replace the entire default interface with a customized experience. Want a visually minimalist, text-only layout? Or movie posters instead of app icons? Easily accomplished on Android TV.
These examples highlight the freedom and personalization Android TV enables versus the Firestick‘s increasingly restricted environment.
According to market research firm Parks Associates, as of Q1 2022 Android TV accounted for 36% of streaming device sales – not far behind Roku‘s 39% share. Amazon Fire TV came in third at 25%.
With its rapid rise and open ecosystem, it’s easy to imagine Android TV continuing to eat into Amazon’s share of the streaming market.
From Amazon‘s perspective, limiting Fire TV flexibility allows them to provide a more curated, refined experience consistent with their vision. Preventing modifications forces users to interact with the interface as designed.
It also reduces platform fragmentation that can introduce technical issues and degrade metrics. A controlled environment may support better optimization and raise engagement with Amazon content and services.
And like Apple, Amazon values offering an ecosystem where products integrate seamlessly at the expense of restricting customer control. As tech analyst Ben Thompson put it, "What Amazon wants is an end-to-end experience where you never have to leave."
Though some power users will be alienated, average customers may appreciate the simplicity and cohesiveness. There are merits to both open and closed approaches.
But the risk is frustrating those demanding more flexibility to the point where they abandon the Fire TV platform altogether – as adoption trends indicate. It‘s a delicate balance of providing guardrails without feeling overly restrictive.
Time will tell if Amazon‘s tightening grip on Fire TV crosses that line for too many users. But for now, the era of easily customizing your Firestick remote has ended.
Yet where there‘s a will for more control, the hacking community often finds a way. Amazon can slow modification efforts, but likely never stop them entirely. Dedicated Fire TV fans have proven resourceful at circumventing restrictions through technical workarounds.
In the meantime, consumers seeking more personalization may have to vote with their wallets by buying Android TV or other open ecosystem devices instead. At least until rooted Firesticks can remap buttons again.
What do you think of Amazon limiting Firestick customization? Weigh in on the discussion!