Amazon Fire TVs just got a surprise downgrade

An Amazon Fire TV remote in front of a television running Fire TV.
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

Editor’s note: This story originally claimed that the loss of custom launchers happened recently, when in fact it took place in 2022. 

Amazon’s Fire TV devices are pretty wide-ranging. From the Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Cube and even the Fire TV Omni QLED TV there are a lot of ways to experience Amazon’s popular smart TV operating system.

Unfortunately, it looks like Fire TV is set to get a disappointing downgrade. According to AFTVNews (opens in new tab), custom button remapping will no longer be allowed on the Alexa-powered Fire TV remotes that come with Fire TV devices. This change will be coming in update, which appears to be the next update to the current software version listed on Amazon's customer support page (opens in new tab). So far only the Fire TV Stick 4K Max has been found to receive the update.

Prior to this update, users with some tech-savvy were able to use a button remapping app that allowed them to set the app buttons on the Alexa Fire TV remote to whichever app they wanted. Now it seems that users will need to be satisfied with the preset button mapping or upgrade to the Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which allows users to map two customizable buttons to whichever app they wish.

The Alexa Voice Remote Pro in hand in front of a TV

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

Additionally, Fire TV devices are now warning customers not to side-load apps (opens in new tab) on their devices. Side-loading gives users the option to download and run apps not available through the Fire TV app store. Unlike with custom button mapping though, Amazon seems to still be allowing side-loading apps — for now.

While these changes seem like a surprise at first, unfortunately, it is par for the course for Amazon. Whether it is Fire OS or the popular Fire tablets, Amazon tries its best to ensure that users cannot use anything but its first-party apps and user interfaces despite Fire OS being an Android clone at its core. This latest change seems to be more of the same, as Amazon’s desire for revenue outweighs its desire to allow increased features for its users. 

Amazon Fire TV customization downgrade: Here’s what else has gone away 

Button remapping isn't the first customization feature that Amazon has taken aim at either. Starting in late 2020, users were able to use a Launcher Manager to set up customized launchers for Fire OS. This is because Fire OS is built on the Android operating system and shares a lot of Android’s customization features.  

Unfortunately, Fire OS update reportedly broke the ability (opens in new tab) for Fire TV users to set their own custom launchers. This was based on reports from Reddit (opens in new tab) and XDA (opens in new tab) forums where users with that specific update suddenly found their custom Fire OS launchers no longer work.

While custom launchers were not the most highly touted feature of the Fire TV devices, for those who knew what they were doing, it gave Fire OS an extra level of customization that other smart TVs couldn't match. Now it seems that not only are those users stuck with Fire TV’s default launcher, but they're also now unable to map their remote buttons how they see fit. That will surely be a disappointment.

Fire TV users can try and keep their customization features by trying to block software updates, but that’s not an avenue we recommend taking. Instead, check out our guide to the best streaming devices, which includes a fair amount of Fire TV alternatives if you’re looking to switch.  

Malcolm McMillan
A/V, AI and VR Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, writing about the latest in tech, gaming and entertainment with a particular focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-based tools like ChatGPT. He has written up much of our coverage on the latest AI tools including ChatGPT, the new GPT-powered Bing and Google Bard. He also covers A/V tech such as televisions, soundbars and more, in addition to covering VR headsets from the Meta Quest 3 to the PS VR2.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.