Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

Recent reports indicate that Amazon has placed manufacturing orders in Asia to produce their very own Android Tablet. But what species of Android will run on this yet-to-be-released device?

Recent reports indicate that Amazon has placed manufacturing orders in Asia to produce their very own Android Tablet. But what species of Android will run on this yet-to-be-released device?

Today, a report from Digitimes has indicated that Amazon has placed an order for manufacturing the mythical Kindle Tablet with Quanta, a very large contract ODM in Taiwan. The size of the contract, estimated in the $3.5 Billion range, with a commission to produce 700,000-800,000 units for the 2011-2012 holiday season is substantial.

As early as last November, I've speculated that Amazon has been in the process of creating a tablet computer based on Android. We know that all of the value-added pieces of this tablet are there, such as Kindle for Android, Amazon Appstore, Amazon Cloud Player, Amazon MP3 and Amazon Video.

Also Read: Kindle's Secret Sibling, Amazon's Android Tablet (November 2010)

That much is in the wide open, and all the pieces have been tested on different vendor hardware/Android builds and have been continuously refined.

What we don't know, however, is exactly what form of Android would run on this tablet, and we don't know what the hardware specs are either.

However, I think it's possible to make a couple of educated guesses based on currently available information.

Given that the Honeycomb 3.0 source code is currently restricted to Google's "Experience" OEMs, such as Motorola, LG, Samsung, Acer and Asus, it is unlikely that Amazon, who is running a competing App Store to Google is likely to sign on for a full licensing of all of the Google Apps for value-add, and thus does not currently possess the OEM Honeycomb source code which Google is witholding from the public.

Instead, I believe that the yet-to-be named Kindle Tablet will run on its own, unique Android derivative, based on the publicly avaliable source code of Gingerbread, Android 2.3.3.

As we know, several Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab have been Froyo 2.2-based, and they've been met with mixed results since it has been received as more of an oversized smartphone than a true tablet.

However, Honeycomb is not without its problems either. It's generally unstable and half-baked, and has a number of backwards-compatibility issues with a vast majority of Android 2.x apps. It also lacks a stable of fully optimized Android 3.0 apps to run on it.

Opting for stability and the widest software compatibility, the Kindle Tablet will almost certainly run Gingerbread at its core, but that's where the the similarities end. I believe that Amazon has actually taken an additional step forward and forked the code, and has added additional APIs and usability layers as well.

These APIs and usability layers would include libraries and apps Amazon will have either created or licensed from third parties in order to "fill out" the missing peices that Google would have otherwise provided with their "full experience" version of Gingerbread or Honeycomb.

This would include things like messaging support for Microsoft Exchange, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and of course, GMail, and all the calendaring and contacts management for the missing PIM functions. It might even include a better built-in webkit-based browser and integrated video conferencing/VOIP/instant messaging.

This special Amazon version of Gingerbread -- which I'm tentatively referring to as "Kindlebread" has most likely been under closed development for close to two years, moving through successive code iterations from Android 2.1 and Android 2.2 while Amazon has watched the hardware platforms mature and observed the other Android players stumble and fall.

Over the past year or so that Amazon has been not-so-secretly hiring a large amount of Android programmers. Some of those undoubtedly have been assigned to writing Amazon's Appstore and actual Android applications, but many of them have been dedicated to enhancing "Kindlebread" so that it would be a refined, highly palatable end-user experience.

The Amazon version of Gingerbread would be a "true" fork of the Android code -- not like the internal fork which begat Honeycomb that many people have been debating is even a fork at all. Kindlebread would most likely be an entirely new species of Android, with special APIs that developers could access through SDK extensions of some kind.

It would almost certainly have to be, because if Amazon were to try to keep up with the Joneses on hardware specs, the display on the device would need to have a decent resolution and the GPU would have to be of good quality, so the APIs as well as improvements to the native Linux subsystem (NDK) would also have to be added to support these components as well.

Initially, I would expect that Amazon would try to maintain Android 2.3.3 compatibility, and curate their Appstore so that no actual submitted Android apps would break on the device.

In essence, this would be a contained, highly administrated version of the existing Android ecosystem -- not quite Apple's "Walled Garden" but not the Android Market Wild West on Google's official licensed builds of Gingerbread and Honeycomb either.

If Google's Android is the Planet Krypton, Kindle Tablet's developer ecosystem would be the equivalent to the bottled city of Kandor. Android, but as a polished and insulated microcosm where law and order would be imposed, where quality as well as monetization would be king.

I would expect the Kindle Tablet to be on par in terms of hardware capability with the iPad 2, as well as with any other tablet, Android or otherwise during the period in which it comes to market. While form factor is completely up in the air, I don't expect this thing to behave like an enlarged smartphone like the Galaxy Tab.

Unlike what we've seen with other products that have entered this space, I expect the Kindle Tablet to be a full-blown, extremely polished product, just like everything Amazon has released to date. I expect it to be priced very aggressively.  And I also expect the OS to run on it to provide an excellent user experience.

Will Amazon eventually move towards some variant of Honeycomb? "Kindlecomb" perhaps? Most likely. But the pattern I expect to see going forward is that Google releases the foundation, framework and scaffolding and other raw materials, and then Amazon polishes the "stable" version of that code to an even finer sheen on a shiny edifice with solid, consumer-grade walls.

Has Amazon forked Android to produce their own special Tablet OS? Talk Back and Let Me Know.


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