Fire OS: Better than Android for the masses

Fire OS: Better than Android for the masses

Summary: Amazon has excited the technorati this week with the unveiling of its Fire phone. It’s based on the Fire OS used on the Kindle Fire HDX tablet. This is a good move as Fire is better than Android for the majority of consumers.

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Fire phone home
(Image: Amazon)

Purists will tell you that the Amazon Fire OS, used on the Kindle Fire HDX tablets and soon the Fire phone, is based on an Android kernel. While true, the resemblance stops deep in the kernel because Amazon has written Fire OS from the ground up with providing a good user experience (UX) in mind.

Those unfamiliar with Fire OS on the new Fire phone should rest assured it is very good. Owning two Kindle Fire HDX tablets, the longer I use Fire OS the more impressed I am with it. It is designed with the user in mind right out of the box. Every Kindle tablet, and I expect the same with the Fire phone, is preconfigured by Amazon before the device ships. The user supplies her Amazon account information when buying the gadget, and it arrives already assigned to that account.

This means you take the Amazon device out of the box, and your stuff is already there. It makes an impression that the gadget already belongs to you in when you first turn it on.

While the phone version of Fire OS will no doubt differ from the tablet version, it looks in photos to be very similar.

The carousel

The feature in Fire OS that makes devices so nice to use is the large carousel toward the top of the home screen. That’s the screen that first presents itself when the device is turned on.

The carousel consists of a row of large icons representing the things you’ve done most recently, a very useful function. When you run an app, read a book, or listen to music, an icon clearly representing that action is placed to the left of the carousel. This ensures you can always resume an activity with a tap as the icon is likely right there in view. If it’s not, simply swipe the carousel to the right and you’ll find it.

This is particularly gratifying for media. Instead of having to find an app icon, the album or book cover is on the carousel. It is natural to see the book you’re reading and tap the cover to resume reading.

Fire OS carousel
Carousel -- note content strip at top of screen (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Install an app and the icon is automatically placed on the left of the carousel. It’s logical to assume you’ll want to run a new app once installed.

The content strip

Above the carousel at the very top of the screen is a simple strip for accessing content in Fire OS (this doesn't appear in photos of the Fire phone). The categories represented are useful and include books, music, games, photos, and docs. If you haven’t used a particular piece of media or for some reason it doesn't appear in the carousel, just tap the appropriate category and find it. Of course once you open a media file it will jump to the carousel in case you want to access it again.

The app screen

You need a simple way to find an app so Fire OS has this too. At the bottom of the homescreen is a row or two (depending on the size of the device display) of app icons. They form a kind of dock as they are always displayed in either portrait or landscape orientation.

Fire OS apps screen
Apps (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

You can tap and hold an icon to move it into the desired spot, just like on app docks on other platforms.

For apps not visible on the home screen, simply swipe up and see all the apps you’ve told Fire OS you want to see. You can put all apps here, but odds are there are some apps you seldom use that you will want to keep hidden. This gives you control over what appears when you swipe up.

Don’t worry about hiding apps, which you do by tapping and holding an icon. You can easily get to a screen with all apps by tapping Apps on the content strip at the top. What’s cool about this all-apps screen is you can select not only apps installed on the device but also apps in the cloud. If you’ve bought or installed apps in the past from the Amazon app store, they are all in the cloud and show up on this screen.

These apps in the cloud are accessible from when you first power a new device on due to that preconfigured Amazon account previously mentioned. This makes it easy to install an app locally on the device by tapping the icon on this screen. No going to the app store and finding it, it’s right there.

You can also access the Amazon App Store from this screen with a simple tap.

The hidden app bar

Fire OS hidden app bar
Hidden app bar (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

When you run an app, the home screen and all the useful features described are gone as the screen is taken over by the app. No worries, if you want to go back to a recently run app just swipe in from the right bezel (when the home/ back buttons are showing) and the App bar slides in. This shows the four or five (depending on screen size) most recently used apps.

It’s all about the UX

Android enthusiasts will tell you that the OS is very full-featured and customizable, and that’s accurate. Fire OS, on the other hand, is all about putting the things you do all the time right in front of you. This makes the UX pleasant and very useful.

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Fire OS is similar to iOS in one regard in that it hides the power of the OS under the hood. What’s exposed is the part of the OS that makes the Amazon device comforting and easy to use. It presents your stuff to you in an unobtrusive way, and that’s the mark of a very good UX.

Having used dozens of devices running it, I can state categorically that Android is a good OS on both smartphones and tablets. It is especially suited for the power user wishing to control every aspect of the UX. That’s not the vast majority of consumers, however.

Unlike Android, you can bet that every Fire smartphone, just like the Kindle Fire HDX, will always run the latest version of the OS. The interface will look the same on every device, presenting a welcome environment when the phone is turned on. Android devices are all different in both look and feel, and that’s due to the various versions of Android they run, as well as the garbage and customization that OEMs and carriers do.

While it’s only just been released, there’s little doubt the Fire phone from Amazon will have a great UX as it uses Fire OS. Amazon has proven with the Kindle Fire HDX tablets that it knows how to do the OS right, and the Fire phone will surely carry on the tradition.

That’s why Fire OS is better than Android for the majority of smartphone and tablet users.

See related:

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Android, Smartphones, Tablets

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43 comments
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  • stop comparing "android" to a specific phone

    The problem with your argument is that you are comparing one fire phone to hundreds of different phones, being lumped together as some "android phone".
    If I compare say a single type of android based phone, like my nexus 5 to a fire phone, then your argument about updates and consistency is irrelevant.
    The fact that there are horror-show, inconsistent, late-updating android based phones somewhere is irrelevant to me.
    Also why has the ultra complicated galaxy series taken such a bite out of the supposedly more appropriate iPhone if your theory about simpler is better is correct? I now seem to see about half galaxy's and half iPhones in the general public.
    drwong
    • Yes it's a big thing that was forgotten

      One unique very expensive smartphone that will look similar in future iterations, vs 100 smartphones from 10 different brands with several prices and specs.
      Probably all smartphones from HTC look similar.

      The running last version is a good point, but consumers (big majority at least) seem to find that is a non issue issue. If Samsung and others felt the need to provide updates faster and for longer time in order to sell more millions of smartphones, they would do it.
      AleMartin
      • Anecdotal

        While I do not know if your supposition is true, the fact that a vast majority of Apple users are using the most up-to-date software by choice, I do not know that assuming end users wouldn't prefer the latest version. It may be that Android users just cannot have that expectation due to the poor roll out by the manufacturers.
        thenitewatch@...
        • the manufacturers could provide updates

          it's mainly the carriers blocking the updates. Apple simply has a better deal with carriers that lets them push updates directly without having to go through the carriers. I'm not sure if Amazon would also have such a deal or if they will be stuck waiting for AT&T to provide updates.
          theoilman
          • there is no momey in providing android updates by the manufacturer.

            Doing that actually works against their bottom line as it only encourages users to stick with their current phones longer.

            blaming the carriers is just making up excuses. Other platforms seem to be able to deliver updates despite dealing with the same carriers.
            Emacho
          • it's not that simple

            it's a balance- too good support and people don't upgrade. too bad support and people don't buy your phone in the first place.
            theoilman
          • Which other platforms?

            I know Apple does a bang up job with OS updates and so does Nexus and Motorola. How do Windows and BB do? And how often are OS updates? I'm not trolling. I'm genuinely interested.

            I know WP7 never got updated to WP8. But that may have been a special case. When was WP8 released? And have all WP8 phones got updates? All of them? By all manufacturers? And how long after the OS release? Do the updates come from Microsoft or the manufacturers?
            os2baba
        • Compare the future iOS release with android

          Most new features exist in android for over a year!
          Also comparing a $700 smartphone with a $200 smartphone is all but fair.
          AleMartin
    • Good point, Drwong

      If Samsung gets their updates right all the time, giving the users the latest and greatest version, while HTC and LG have issues with their Android updates, the Samsung owners would argue (and correctly) that their Android phones had no updates issue, and therefor would be on par with something like the Amazon phone.
      William.Farrel
      • Samsung's Fork

        It seems to me that today we really have 3 major forks of Android. FireOS is a major fork of Android. I have often wondered if Samsung represents another major fork. The final fork comes from Google and is used by many others like HTCD, LG, etc. with just a few graphics changes.
        MichaelInMA
        • I agree

          I also think that Samsung has taken the lead and shown even Google what can be done with a smartphone OS.
          William.Farrel
          • Samsung is a no go

            Their software is horrible, it's intrusive, ugly. Other than the screen, ask other of its features are gimmicks that don't really work.

            Yes the all the most devices, though it's not worth it. I use the Nexus7 more than the GS4.

            Then you consider they plan on going Tizen, that spells doom for them.

            The best any one using Android can do, is consider any other brand other than Samsung.
            Uralbas
    • The real problem...

      Amazon is miles behind in other services like Combined IM, Web Browsing, Email Client...

      Their Store is ridiculously devoid of many an app that other platforms have and you're completely locked to Amazon Services...

      What next, an Amazon Desktop?

      Honestly, Amazon just needs to make their Prime app available for Android and quit pissing off their customers.
      slickjim
    • Um, one of the main reasons the Galaxy is so

      successful is because of the TouchWiz front end Samsung slapped on top of Android to increase usability. In other words to reduce the ultra complication.
      baggins_z
  • What is better for the masses is the Windows Phone

    Android is full of malware and spyware and the masses who don't have a clue about tech...Windows Phone is the best, no malware, no snooping, safe and secure and devices are available at various prices points.
    Owl:Net
    • I'd agree except for the same malware problems on windows phone

      and the same sort of snooping done by MS as they attempt to catch up with google.
      drwong
      • Malware problems on windows phones?

        I've read that is an issue with Android, not anyone else.
        William.Farrel
        • it may be a problem for some people in china or russia

          or those who have ordered some el-cheapo phone direct from china on amazon, none of which have play store access. They side load apks from some seedy 3rd party app store site and surprise, they have malware.

          Because android apps can be sideloaded, that automatically means that malware will be written targeting android, because there is a "chance" that it can get some of these types of devices, unlike non-jailbroken iphones.

          Every report in the media involves these sorts of users. The theoretical malware. As i've said - I'll whip up a malware in an hour. Perhaps one that sends out spam to the contact list. Doesn't rely on OS vulnerabilities to do so. The user can give permission if they so choose. Just because this malware exists, doesn't mean its going to get near anyone's device.

          None of these malware will be picked up by mainstream phones with play store access. In the rare chance that it sneaks through, they will be booted by google eventually and also android now checks for such apps. The user also confirms the privilege requests. You'd have to be pretty stupid to get malware overall.
          drwong
          • that.. and Google cannot deliver security updates.. master key flaw

            for example still exists on the majority of android devices in the world. it will never get parched, because Android is so fragmented. Also there are more uncertified android devices in the wild than there are certified. That is what open sourcing has done to android. n

            Android is the most vulnerable mobile operating system on the market.
            Emacho
    • Is this a joke?

      Android comes with virus and malware protection built in since Jelly Bean. The Windows Phone doesn't get viruses because no one is using it so why bother?
      dhsredhead