One redditor wonders why Roku doesn’t offer a web browser. Only Roku employees know for sure, but we can make some educated guesses.
First, and most likely, is that web browsing just isn’t what Roku’s designed to do and therefore not something they’d prioritize development or support of (despite the many web technologies brought to bear behind the scenes). But, while Roku doesn’t provide the processing power or underlying Android-based framework of Fire TV, this isn’t a technical limitation as we’ve been doing web (poorly) on television for 25 years. e.g. WebTV and my Sega Dreamcast. In fact, we’ve seen a few 3rd party attempts at a Roku Browser app, such as the “private channel” Browser X.
Leading into point two. As highlighted on reddit, there are additional business considerations at play. Roku acts as a massive content gateway, doing deals with video providers and offering users (and those companies) a side entrance to accessing video could become counter-productive. Likewise, piracy has been a consideration — leading, in fact, to a temporary halt of streaming box sales in Mexico followed by removal of “private channels” there and soon to be dropped here in the US as well.
But under what sorts of conditions might Roku make a browser available? YouTube. Google has threatened to remove YouTube from Roku December 9th due to stalled retransmission negotiations surrounding the YouTube TV channel. Without getting into the he said/she said PR spin, if the two are unable to work a deal, Roku will lose one of the most popular video sources. And a browser app accessible to the YouTube URL might just help fend off a number of defections… that would also eat into the bottom line, as advertising remains one of Roku’s primary revenue streams plus fewer viewers also means less leverage for other retransmission dealios. Of course, Google would take issue with such a move and we’d could see history repeat itself when Google had unofficial YouTube access removed in 2011 – but it might buy some time.