Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

Summary: 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?

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TOPICS: Android, Amazon, Google
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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.

Topics: Android, Amazon, Google

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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31 comments
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  • Competition is good

    Can Amazon improve over the decrepit reputation of the Android OS on tablets? I hope so. But with so much cheap crapware using the "with Android" logo in the market, the brand may become to "damaged" (in the tablet market) by the time Amazon can release their version.

    What Amazon will have do is figure out how to compete outside of the bottom of the barrel where we now see all the others Android tablets. It needs to be significantly better than the crapware available currently and about to come out.
    wackoae
    • Amazon just might do it

      @wackoae I like their appstore for Android and I have a Kindle. They do a great job of making things easy.

      Google is getting as bad as Microsoft with the slow development...how long will it take before they release an improved Android.
      otaddy
      • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

        @Perlow

        Few times in my life I have seen so much speculation put together. I guess you are playing the law of averages here. You make so many statements that some of them are gonna be true no matter what.

        Having said that, it's pathetic how Google has failed to produce a decent OS for tablets. They were too busy creating a DOA OS for netbooks that they couldn't anticipate the popularity of the iPad.
        nomorebs
      • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

        @otaddy An Android fork is absolutely inevitable. Anybody remember Norths<a href="http://www.tran33m.com/vb/">t</a>ar BASIC? This was supposed to be the standard high-level language for beginners and home users. Standard. Within minutes, every home co<a href="http://vb.maas1.com/">m</a>puter manufacturer had released their own version of BASIC, all mutually incompatible (and this was back in the days when half the fun of a home computer was writing your own programmes). The only suprise, is why it hasn't already forked!
        alasiri8
  • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

    There's no denying that Amazon could be the dark horse in the tablet wars. Every device they release does exactly what it says it will, and does it very well. If they make such a tablet, they could be onto a winner.
    Imrhien
  • Congratulations on your choice of a crystal ball, Jason. Well done.

    I, too, feel that whatever tablet product Amazon releases, that product will be highly polished and approach, if not equal, Apple's iOS "rock solidness".

    Now, if Amazon is able to deliver just one additional "wow" factor to the tablet market, than its "Game On".

    What about a "strategic hardware alliance" with some PC vendor that would bring to the table the type of hardware synergy that the iPad has with it's OSX "big brother" computers?

    That type of hardware synergy, for example, allows Adobe to release it's CS5.5 suite with software tie ins to their iPad apps. (Like using the iPad as a color palette for Photoshop) To cite just one example.

    Or how WebOs will allow HP to tie in its smartphone, tablet and desktop computers into a seamless ecosystem.

    That's the one design strength of Android that is both its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. That is, Android tablets can and do act as "stand alone" computers. As Peter Perry will attest to, a XOOM tablet does not need a host computer. Unfortunately, that aspect of Android (a great strength) makes integration into computer ecosystems a secondary concern and so the need to form tight cooperation with other elements of a consumer's computer network becomes secondary as well. As does the creation of apps leveraging the strengths of a computer / tablet interaction.

    Perhaps Amazon can bring that type of hardware synergy to it's Kindle tablet ecosystem.
    kenosha77a
  • Fork is a choice.

    Brought to you by: Linux
    Dietrich T. Schmitz ~~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz Before we get all jingoistic on Linux, let us remember there is very little Linux in Android. With the exception of the kernel and parts of the NDK, the entire Android OS is Apache-licensed. Nothing GNU or GPL about this. And Google isn't exactly making it easy to get current code. If Google opened code on a timely basis, the community would not be forced into this fractionalization. I despise what is happening to us as a community now because of these sort of shenanigans.
      jperlow
      • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

        @jperlow <br><br><i>"...very little Linux in Android.</i>"<br><br>I know you know better than this statement. <br>It's like saying, being a little pregnant, eh?<br><br>"<i>With the exception of the kernel ..."</i><br><br>FYI: Linux <strong>IS</strong> the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_kernel" target="_blank"> kernel</a>. So all <strong>Linux devices</strong> have <i>"very little Linux"</i> in it too.<br><br>PS: There is very little water in moisture too.<br><br>Writing for Zdnet requires no facts just fudging of the facts.
        Return_of_the_jedi
      • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

        @jperlow Linux is just a kernel. So what you said makes absolutely no sense. Perhaps you're confusing GNU/Linux with Linux.
        snoop0x7b
      • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

        @snoop0x7b

        The things that make Android Android aren't Linux. It is theoretically possible that Amazon even *replace* the Linux kernel and go with something else and have something that looks and behaves exactly like Linux. For instance, I think it is fair to say that Android is a little Linux and a lot of Dalvik.

        And yes, people usually mean "GNU/Linux" (and KDE and a lot of other stuff) when they say Linux.
        x I'm tc
        • Android is yet another Fork of one of many that sits on top of Linux

          @jdakula

          If you don't believe me, go to the Market, install one of the terminal emulators (Better Terminal Emulator), then type:

          $uname -a

          On mine linux version returned for froyo 2.2 is:

          Linux localhost 2.6.2.39
          Dietrich T. Schmitz ~~ Your Linux Advocate
      • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

        @snoop0x7b<br><br><i>"And yes, people usually mean "GNU/Linux" (and KDE and a lot of other stuff) when they say Linux.</i>"<br><br>You can bootstrap an ARM version of a Linux distro <i>chrooted</i> on top of a running droid. Thus allowing you to have a full flown GNU/Linux environment with all the apps just an apt-get or yum away. I might add, with any windows manager of your choice.
        Return_of_the_jedi
    • Sorry but there is no halo effect

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz

      It's been proven time and time again that Android has not provided any growth to the Linux desktop. Nor does Google seem to want to create any association with the Linux desktop.
      otaddy
  • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

    I'm going to be cautiously optimistic about this rumored tablet - as others have said on here Amazon delivers a polished product that does what it says it will do. It'll be interesting to see if Amazon goes with a more closed Android ecosystem and how it will do in terms of functionality, compatibility, and regular (and compatible) updates vs the current Android systems. iOS is too restrictive (until jailbroken) and Android in some ways it too open (malware in Google's own App Store) so hopefully Amazon will go as predicted to a more closed model but not one as closed as iOS.

    If they do this and keep the hardware price down to a competitive level this might wind up being the competition/ iPad killer the ABAers have been searching for.
    athynz
  • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

    I'm just wondering where Amazon is going to purchase the hardware with Apple chewing up most of this planet's capacity for tablet parts.
    dheady@...
    • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

      @dheady Amazon's supply chain Kung Fu is as equally impressive as Apple's. You shell out enough cash to own your own inventory, and stuff happens.
      jperlow
  • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

    It would be interesting to see what they do. If I were to guess I would say they will do a fork and create their own unique experience and leverage the Kindle brand. I think the CEO Jef Bezos has made it clear in the past that his company wants to be like Apple than any other when it comes to hardware and content ecosystem. Remember the Kindle was to be the "iPod of e-reading" in 2007 and I think they've largely succeeded there (although we still haven't seen hard sales numbers). We see them doing their own Apple-like curated app store. Like Apple, I think Amazon understands the importance of branding, and the importance of building a great user experience <b>first</b> which results in high customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. And building upon that experience year after year. <br><br>If they were to release their own Kindlebread (lol), I would expect it to be uniquely different from all the other Android offering in the market now. The fact that it runs some version of Android or Android folk will matter only to geeks, the vast consumer will probably just see it as a KindlePad. An Amazon device that let them tap into that huge Amazon ecosystem.
    dave95.
  • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

    If the Amazon device is Gingerbread-based, I'm guessing it will look a lot like the Nook Color. The possible advantages that the Amazon tablet may have over the Nook would include Amazon's ability to price it aggressively and the Amazon ecosystem. <br><br>One of the big competitive advantages that Apple has enjoyed is its reliable ecosystem. The disadvantage is that the ecosystem comes with some heavy handed "lock-in". If Amazon can create a competitively featured, well-priced device that works seamlessly and reliably within and without their ecosystem it could be a big hit and genuine competition for the incumbent, Apple.
    codougd
  • RE: Amazon: Is an Android fork inevitable? Meet Kindlebread

    Amazon has a built-in set of potential buyers for an Amazon tablet -- all of us satisfied Kindle users. I have a Xoom but I'd be happy to trade it in for something with a bigger ecosystem and more (useful) applications. I'd also like to have the customer service that goes with my Kindle.
    amywohl