Amazon blocks custom home screens and button remapping for Fire TV users

Mike Wheatley

Amazon is taking steps to restrict Fire TV users, putting a block on their ability to install a custom home screen or launcher, and also by blocking button remapping.


Amazon’s Fire TV is a fork of the Android TV platform, but with its latest moves the company is effectively transforming it into a walled garden, forcing people to use its own user interface. It also means users will only be able to download apps from its own marketplace, and see its own ads. It’s all about securing revenue, having sold the hardware for virtually no profit.

With its latest software update, Amazon is preventing users from switching from Fire TV’s default home screen to an alternative, AFTVNews reported. Previously, it was possible to change to what’s known as a “custom launcher”. However, the latest Fire OS 7 (ver. and Fire OS 6 (ver. updates now make that impossible, and sadly there’s no easy way for users to prevent the automatic updates being installed.

In addition, the update also prevents users from remapping the sponsored buttons on their Fire TV remote control, AFTVNews said in a second report. This is because Amazon receives money from streaming services to add a dedicated button and corresponding logo to its remotes. According to AFTVNews, so far only the remote for the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is affected by this block, but it will likely be pushed out to other devices in future.

To further cement its walled garden, Amazon has also issued a warning that aims to dissuade users from side-loading apps onto their Fire TVs. Side-loading is a process that allows people to install apps that aren’t available through the Amazon Fire TV app store.

Users can still side-load apps, but when they do so Amazon is inserting a warning via a pop-up that reads: "WARNING: When you use applications from unknown sources, your TV and personal data are less secure and there is a risk of unexpected behavior. You agree that you are solely responsible for any damage to your device or loss of data that may result from using these applications."

It’s a scare tactic of course, but such language can be effective in preventing users from customizing their experience. Likely, Amazon has resorted to this as it cannot currently find a way to block side-loading of apps.

Regular Android TV users can still install home screens and remap buttons on their remote controls, and they too can also side-load third-party apps.