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The literally useless Roku diamond button might actually be a good idea

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Button of the month: mysterious Roku Touch diamond button

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On the corner of the Roku Touch remote is a strange, unlabeled button marked only with a mysterious glyph of two overlapping diamonds. Press it, and a voice will ring out: “This feature is not yet available.”

The button does absolutely nothing, and it’s been that way for nearly two years.

Back in 2018, Roku launched its TV Wireless speaker, along with the Roku Touch remote to match. On that remote, there are a plethora of buttons: volume controls, play / pause / skip buttons, a microphone button, and even two programmable presets that can be tied to frequently used commands.

But Roku also reserved a final button for a future software feature — the odd diamond-marked button seen here. Nearly two years on, Roku has yet to say what feature the button is reserved for or when (or even if) that update will come.

Theories abound: perhaps Roku is planning to use it for some kind of multiroom audio feature or to link up other hardware like the Roku subwoofer.

But despite the literal uselessness of the mysterious diamond button, I love the idea of it. It simultaneously speaks to one of the greatest weaknesses of hardware interactions, while also hinting at their greatest strengths.

As Steve Jobs famously said at the announcement of the first iPhone, the problem with physical buttons is that they’re “fixed in plastic” — whatever you have on the phone, remote, or keyboard is (largely) what it’ll do forever. “And what happens if you think of a great idea six months from now?” Jobs quipped, “You can’t run around and add a button to these things!”

And Jobs was right. You can’t add buttons to a remote after the fact, and short of forcing users to buy new remotes every time you have a great new feature or redesign — which is an option, as companies like Nvidia have shown — you’re stuck.

Which is precisely why this bizarre, nonfunctional Roku button exists. Because if Roku does come up with that awesome feature in the future (which, given the nearly two years that this remote has been out, isn’t an assured thing), it’s already laid the groundwork for it with a dedicated hardware button that will make accessing the feature a snap.

Of course, Roku hasn’t done anything with it, leaving the downside that Jobs envisioned back in 2007: the button is fixed in plastic forever, leaving a confusing object for users and a constant reminder that Roku hasn’t actually managed to ship whatever it planned.

Those opposing ideas are why I love this Roku button so much. Not because of its functionality (obviously), but because it represents both the strengths and weaknesses of a hardware button: the benefits of a bespoke hardware tool and the pitfalls of an unchangeable interface. And who knows? Maybe Roku will add functionality to the diamond button one day. After all, buttons can’t change, but firmware is flexible.