Roku Learns Spanish and Extends Alexa and Google Assistant Support Internationally

Roku is updating its software this week with a range of improvements, especially when it comes to voice and virtual assistants. The upgraded system will be able to understand Spanish, and customers in Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom will be able to operate their smart televisions using Amazon Alexa or  Google Assistant.

TV Talk

The marquee update is probably that Roku can speak and understand Spanish. The new language option is limited to the United States and Mexico for now, but that still opens up Roku to a lot of new potential users. The Roku Voice platform improvements include several subtle improvements to understand natural speech.  The AI can even sometimes figure out what movie people want to watch based on well-known quotes, even if the user can’t remember the title. Voice searches are also better integrated into the visual system. Searching for something by voice now brings up organized rows of potential search results, compared to just one collection of possible matches. They will still be sorted based on where the cheapest option to watch, though.

Voice commands can also start content playing immediately without an intermediate search page from some streaming services such as HBO Now, but not including Netflix. The same goes for the news command. Asking Roku to show you the news will bring up news channel options, but asking Roku to play the news on a specific channel will immediately start a live stream. Roku will remember the preference, and just asking it to play the news will bring that choice on the screen.

“The Roku OS continues to get better with a specific focus on delivering strong performance, especially on older devices, new and more ways to find content, and unique features to our customers,” said Roku OS vice president Ilya Asnis said in a statement. “We’ve designed Roku Voice to enable consumers to get to the content they want quickly, allow them to browse in new ways and control their experience with a laser focus on entertainment.”

International Voices

Roku first started connecting with Google Assistant in the fall of 2018, with an Alexa skill added a few months later.  The voice assistants were limited to the U.S., however. The updated version of Roku brings that support, and those partnerships, to new countries. The moves Roku is making are all part of its effort to grab more of the international smart television market. In the summer, Roku started to extend its licensing program to Europe for the first time, allowing TV makers there, beginning with Hisense, build Roku televisions and use the Roku OS in other smart TVs.

“With Roku OS 9.3, we’re adding new functionality to Roku Voice in multiple regions around the globe with the primary goal of delighting our users in their day-to-day use of our devices,” Asnis said

The competition has been especially fierce with Amazon when it comes to smart TV operating systems. The licensing of software and television designs is vital to both companies since they don’t have to build televisions if they can get TV makers to use their plans and their software. Roku was built using that model, to the point where the company now claims to be the best-selling smart TV operating system in the U.S., with a third of all televisions using its platform. Roku claimed to have around 37 million users as of February.


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