Roku Inc., which makes devices for streaming internet video on television sets, announced Wednesday that it plans to develop a voice assistant and let manufacturers create Roku-connected speakers, stepping up its competition with tech giants Apple, Google and Amazon.
Owners of Roku TVs and players will get the voice-powered Roku Entertainment Assistant free of charge in a fall software update, the company said. The assistant will enable users to use voice commands to play music, TV shows and movies on voice-supported Roku devices.
Roku also envisions being at the center of a home entertainment network with which people can easily connect a smart soundbar, add speakers in different rooms and control them with voice commands.
Under Roku's newly announced licensing program, third-party companies can make soundbars, smart speakers and audio systems that use Roku Connect software, which enables users to connect those elements wirelessly and control them with voice commands or a single remote control. Equipment makers also will be able to license smart soundbar and speaker hardware reference designs, as well as the Roku operating system, Roku said.
"Expanding the ecosystem to include a great audio experience in the home reinforces our platform," said Mark Ely, Roku's vice president of product management.
Roku said TCL, its lead manufacturing partner, will announce a device under the licensing program Monday.
Shares of the Los Gatos, Calif., company jumped 6.5% to $55.44 after the announcement. Roku's stock has soared since its initial public offering in September, when shares were priced at $14 and ended their first day of trading at $23.50.
Google, Amazon and Apple all offer streaming-video boxes that connect with their respective voice assistants, but Roku has hung on to a large wedge of market share.
Roku captures about 23% of connected-TV users, according to an October report from research firm eMarketer. About 38.9 million Americans are estimated to use a Roku device once a month, compared with 36.9 million people using Google Chromecast, 35.8 million people using Amazon Fire TV and 21.3 million using Apple TV.
Victoria Petrock, an analyst with eMarketer, said Roku's new voice assistant will only make its already competitive product easier to use. However, with so many other popular voice assistants on the market, Roku might be limited in the long term if it cannot integrate its system with others' or expand the voice assistant to offer other services.
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Image credit: Product shots by Roku.