Amazon’s debut smartphone is garnering significant interest, primarily due to its head-tracking feature. The fact that this is Amazon’s first foray into the smartphone market is also worth noting. Although they have previously manufactured tablets, the smartphone industry represents a completely different playing field.
Furthermore, this will signify the debut of Amazon’s Fire OS on smartphones, which is likely to pique the curiosity of certain observers.
Kindle Fire users are probably already familiar with Fire OS. However, if you haven’t been keeping up with the Kindle Fire models and are only now considering purchasing an Amazon device, you might be interested in learning more about Fire OS and how it differs from standard Android.
Is Fire OS Android?
To answer the question of whether Fire OS is Android, the simple answer is no.
Although Fire OS is built on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) variant of Android, Amazon has separated Fire OS from the entire Google ecosystem and created their own unique ecosystem on top of the Android base.
How is this achieved? Without delving too deeply into technicalities, the Android that most of us are familiar with can be split into two parts: the open-source base, known as the “Android Open Source Project (AOSP)”, and the closed-source Google-branded apps and services.
Therefore, what most of us encounter when we use an Android device is a blend of an open-source OS with a closed-source Google ecosystem. In the case of Fire OS, while it is based on the Android OS, it substitutes the closed-source Google ecosystem with its own closed-source, walled-garden Amazon ecosystem.
Detaching from the Mothership
As one might expect, Google is not particularly enthusiastic about allowing Android forks to access Google services and its ecosystem. This is where Fire OS diverges from standard Android – since Amazon doesn’t have access to any of the closed-source Google APIs, Fire OS has been disconnected from Google services, including the crucial Google Play Store and Google Maps.
In essence, Fire OS can be viewed as Android without all the (often Google-branded) features of Android that people enjoy. Despite developing their own replacement or equivalent APIs, Amazon’s Fire OS simply doesn’t offer the same experience as Android.
Additionally, this situation also determines where Amazon devices are produced. All manufacturers who produce Android Google devices are part of the Open Handset Alliance, where members are contractually prohibited from manufacturing devices that do not receive Google’s approval.
In other words, members of the Alliance are not allowed to build devices running Android forks. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets (and possibly the upcoming smartphone) are manufactured by Quanta Computer.
Understanding the Fire OS Ecosystem
For many manufacturers, losing access to Google APIs and services would be a significant setback. However, Amazon is not your typical manufacturer. The constraints of Fire OS actually make it an ideal component of a larger system that includes Amazon-related apps and services like the Amazon Appstore, Amazon Instant Video, and the Kindle Store.
Fire OS is designed to encourage and guide users towards purchasing and using Amazon products and content.
The interface prominently displays media content, and the easily navigable menu options allow you to purchase and access apps, games, ebooks, videos, and more, all from Amazon. The interface is user-friendly, and updates are automatically pushed to all Kindle devices without any complications.
Fragmentation is not a problem with Fire OS.
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Amazon has developed its own APIs to replace or mimic some of Google’s proprietary APIs. For example, Fire OS has its own API for push notifications, called Amazon Device Messaging, and GameCircle, which is their version of Google’s Play Games API. Despite Amazon having equivalents for most of Google’s APIs, developers still encounter challenges when porting apps and games to Fire OS.
This certainly contributes to the fact that Fire OS’s selection of apps and games cannot compete with what is available on the Google Play Store. According to App Annie, the Amazon app store only has about 190,000 apps, a small fraction of the 1.5 million apps available on the Google Play Store.
So, is Fire OS inferior to Android? That entirely depends on the type of user you are:
If you’re a fully subscribed Amazon Prime member, or if you get most of your digital content from Amazon, then Fire OS is a pretty impressive operating system. The fact that the Amazon smartphone comes with Prime Data – where any data used when consuming Amazon media content doesn’t count towards your monthly data cap – certainly sweetens the deal.
However, if you’re not a fan of Amazon, the Amazon-branded services won’t compensate for the lack of Google APIs and access to the offerings in the Google Play Store. In that case, you might consider rooting your device.
Unlocking Fire OS
Fire OS is fundamentally an Android-based operating system, hence, it’s entirely feasible to unlock Fire OS by installing Google Play Services, albeit this might involve venturing into some grey areas. You have two alternatives: you can either root your Fire OS device and install Google Play Services in that manner, or you can sideload Google services and apps onto your Fire OS device.
Rooting is the superior choice if you desire full compatibility with the Google ecosystem, but it does come with a drawback: it technically nullifies your warranty. Therefore, you should carefully weigh whether gaining full access to the Google ecosystem is worth the invalidated warranty.
This article doesn’t have the space to delve into the intricacies of what rooting is and how to execute it on your Kindle, but there are numerous guides available online about rooting a Kindle Fire. Rooting also allows you to install alternative kernels that can enhance performance or battery life, and it’s a part of the process of installing a completely new ROM.
Sideloading is a method where you install apps or services by transferring them to your device’s internal storage and then executing the installer, rather than downloading it from an app store.
Most apps will operate fine, but you’ll likely encounter error messages quite frequently; they won’t prevent you from using the apps, but they can become somewhat irritating. Nevertheless, it’s a minor inconvenience to endure if you really need an app that isn’t available on the Amazon app store.
Why Launch a Fire OS Smartphone?
Let’s pause for a moment and consider this pressing question: Why introduce a smartphone running on Fire OS into an already saturated market? The answer lies in the fact that a Fire OS smartphone creates a constant, direct link between Amazon and its consumers. A smartphone, being more portable than a tablet, is the perfect tool for those who prefer shopping on the move.
If Amazon plays its cards right, this new smartphone could further integrate the Amazon ecosystem into its customers’ daily routines through m-commerce and impulse purchases.
Remember the 3D display technology that is set to be a key feature of the Amazon smartphone? Coupled with head tracking capabilities, it could provide consumers with a more immersive shopping experience. This technology would allow consumers to view physical products from various angles, in addition to offering multi-perspective media content – a truly exciting prospect.
Of course, this is all speculative at this stage. However, it seems that the primary goal of introducing Fire OS on the smartphone is not so much about selling the device itself, but rather about extending the reach of Amazon’s content and media ecosystem directly into the pockets of users.
While it may be disappointing that Google exercises such tight control over their services, APIs, and Android in general, this control could arguably be beneficial for Amazon. Amazon has transformed the challenges they’ve faced into a replacement OS that provides users with a unique and user-friendly online shopping experience, exclusively for Amazon products.
Admittedly, the limited number of apps could potentially be a drawback for the Amazon smartphone, as users might expect more from a device they carry with them all the time. However, its emphasis on simplicity, easy content consumption, and a low-pricing strategy, which makes it a suitable platform for tweaking and modding, offers a distinct experience compared to the standard Android. Whether this is better or worse will entirely depend on the type of user you are and what you expect from your device.