Amazon hamstrings free app that makes Fire TV remotes reprogrammable
Amazon doesn't want you messing with the Fire TV remote's buttons. After all, those buttons connecting users to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are a source of ad revenue for Amazon. The company recently issued a software update to the Fire TV Stick 4K Max that blocks the functionality of Remapper, a free app that lets users reprogram the remote's third-party app-launcher buttons.
Buttons dedicated to a specific TV-streaming service, like Disney+ or Peacock, have been a way for streaming services to attempt to drive subscriptions and viewership since 2011 when Netflix started doing it. Companies like Amazon and Roku receive money for placing a button for a streaming service on their remotes. Amazon hasn't disclosed how much money it makes from this function, but in 2019, Bloomberg reported that Roku charges streaming companies $1 for every remote sold with one of the service's buttons.
With that in mind, Amazon's apparent resistance to Remapper isn't surprising. But for users who don't have a Netflix subscription, for example, they may want to reprogram a Fire TV remote's dedicated Netflix button to launch a service they have a subscription to.
Last week, Amazon issued a software update (126.96.36.199) that blocks the functionality of the Remapper app on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max. The app's creator, AFTVnews' Elias Saba, said that while the block only affects Fire TV Stick 4K Max. they expect Remapper to be blocked from other Fire TVs, too.
"I don't expect a new workaround to be found to get Remapper to work again," Saba said.
Saba released Remapper two years ago. It only lets you reprogram Fire TV remote buttons that connect you to streaming services, like Amazon Prime Video. If you don't subscribe to the service the button takes you to, it's a waste of space.
Remapper works by mimicking the app the remote is meant to launch. The caveat is that, once reprogrammed, you can no longer use that app on your Fire TV.
A year after its release, a software update temporarily stopped Remapper from working by requiring that any app launched by an app button be installed from Amazon's Appstore. But Saba was able to work around this with "the addition of a few more steps during the setup process to trick the Fire TV into thinking the Remapper app was installed by the Amazon Appstore."=
The latest software update feels closer to a final nail in Remapper's coffin, though. It "contains a more sophisticated method to detect whether the app being launched by the remote app buttons is the expected app or not."
"Trying to use Remapper to remap an app button results in the line 'App [app name] is not trusted. Aborting launch.' appearing in the Fire TV's log file," Saba explained.
In September, Amazon released the Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which has two programmable buttons with the numbers 1 and 2, rather than stamped with a streaming-service logo.
The Remote Pro works with Fire TVs and costs $35, and Remapper was a free app. But, while Amazon's remote still has four third-party (non-reprogrammable) app buttons, rivals like Google TV and Android TV still let you reprogram their remote buttons, as noted by 9to5Google.
Amazon has seemingly exerted more control over its Fire TV platform by limiting customization. A Fire OS update earlier this month reportedly prevented using custom launchers over Fire TV's ad-riddled default. Such moves could help Amazon maximize revenue from its Fire TV business at a time when its Alexa hardware division is said to be "in crisis." In January 2022, Amazon said it sold over 150 million Fire TV devices since the device's inception.