Roku’s new app can replace its remote, help you find something to watch

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Fresh on the heels of introducing new TV models at CES, and touting its 13 percent share of the smart TV market, Roku today is rolling out a revamped mobile application aimed at making it easier to access its most popular features, including search and the remote control, while also introducing a new way to find things to watch.

The company has long offered a handy companion app that works with its streaming media player devices and smart TVs – devices that are used by 13 million people on a monthly basis. The earlier version of the app offered a simple interface with vertically aligned buttons for remote, search, “My Feed” (a personalized section of things you want to watch), the Channel Store, and “Play on Roku” (a casting option).

Today, Roku says it’s moving the navigation to the bottom of the app. That’s a more traditional design than the big buttons it used before. However, the buttons themselves have changed. Now, from left to right, you can access Channels, a new section called “What’s On,” the Remote, a “Photos+” section, and the app’s settings.

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When you first launch the app, you’ll be presented with a list of the channels you have installed. You can then tap the channel you want, after which the remote will immediately appear, so you can continue to navigate to the show or movie you want to watch. The Channel Store is still available too, in a separate tab.

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“What’s On” is a new section, and it essentially replaces the prior “My Feed” button.

My Feed was Roku’s first attempt at personalizing its experience for end users, by offering a way to track your favorite shows and movies. When there were new episodes available, you’d be alerted through a notification in the feed. You could also track upcoming movies, so you’d know when they were available to stream.

The goal was to make it easier to keep up with content across services in the fragmented streaming landscape by centralizing these updates.

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With “What’s On,” Roku instead turns its attention to more generalized suggestions with a curated list of the best entertainment available to rent, buy or stream for free. Here you’ll find other content grouping by theme, too – like Superhero movies or top kids’ shows, deals, and free episodes, for example. “My Feed” is still available in this section, but much further down – nearly at the bottom.

While “My Feed” was useful if you took the work to customize it and keep it updated with the shows you were currently watching, in today’s binge-watch era where we power through entire shows, seasons and movies, the feed’s content would quickly become dated. You’d have to constantly tweak the feed to keep it tuned into what shows you’re watching now.

“What’s On,” then, makes sense, as it focuses on more generally interesting things to watch, and could serve as a starting point to see what’s new in streaming.

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Meanwhile, Roku has also updated the mobile remote to better resemble its real-world counterpart in terms of the button layout. It’s now easier to use with one hand, with buttons and the directional pad being moved closer together. There’s a new channels icon at the top, too, which lets you quickly jump from one channel to another without switching screens.

Finally, Photos+ lets you quickly share music, photos, or videos from your library to Roku, or create your own customized Roku screensaver with your own content.

The updated app (Roku ver. 4.0) is arriving today on both the iOS App Store and Google Play.