Neutral platform? The Roku box started out as a Netflix only player and has prioritized Netflix in many revisions since in a semi-open environment for other channels. Until "recently" (reads: some years ago) the Roku platform started to prioritize/help other mainstream channels onto the platform.
I'm not certain I agree with that article title. OS 9.1 is only adding one feature that starts playing media from The Roku Channel. That's a voice search. And it's only if that particular title is available on TRC. Otherwise, you still get the same list of all channels that title is available on. If you never use the search function (I never do, but I know others do), then you never see that side of it.
An Amazon Fire TV is far from a neutral platform, as the entire UI is designed to showcase Amazon content. I've never seen an Apple TV, but would guess it's focused on iTunes. The Shield is neutral, almost. Even though I have all of the video recommendations disabled, sometimes they turn themselves back on and highlight Google Play movies. The Roku UI, even under 9.1, is still completely neutral. It doesn't move around the channel icons from where I place them, so it shows them the way I want. Yeah, it has ads that run on the right side of the screen, but those ads are not all for The Roku Channel. In fact, they are usually for some other channel offering.
If they move to the Roku Channel as the home page, that would make it very similar to the Amazon Fire TV. I'm not in favor of that. I haven't seen that in OS 9.1, so I don't think they're rolling that out now. But if they think it worthwhile, I could certainly see them pushing it on us. That would just push me to buy another Shield and move away from Roku. I like the ability to move the channel icons where I want them on the home screen, and would be very annoying.
I agree that the voice search should not trigger immediate playback. I can see offering that as an option, but not as the default. Again, it would be one more thing to push me to an alternate player, such as the Shield. For family use, I like the Roku UI. Using the Shield is more complicated to watch my local media. But it they start complicating the Roku UI, then it's not so big an impediment to move to a different player.
Neutral platform may mean different things for users, but compared to other platform choices, Roku was one of the more agnostic choices.
In this room alone, I have two Roku remotes with predefined (unchangeable) buttons for various channels that will lead to that specific channel's content or to the Roku Channel Store for installing said channel. (One is Neflix, HBO Now, Sling, and Hulu and the other Netflix, Spotify, Google Play, and YouTube) How many other streaming boxes have predefined buttons on their remotes to promote specific content which is not related to the streaming box?
Case in point. The recently introduced ALEXA ROKU SKILL can open many of the popular Roku apps thru voice commands now. Pause, Resume, Volume adjustment also work within these apps. NOT with Netflix. Can not open the app are make any adjustments once video is streaming. I can't imagine that Roku made the decision not to include Netflix in the initial release of the Skill. If so, the comment section of the Skill would say they mis-calculated. One of the bigger gripes is no Netflix support. Likely a Netflix decision to not allow support.