Kindle Fire update: Not Android by design

Kindle Fire update: Not Android by design

Summary: Amazon rolled out an update for its Fire OS to most Kindle Fire tablets. The update further removes owners from the Android experience.

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(Image: Amazon)

ZDNet's Zack Whittaker reported on the release of the latest Fire OS for Kindle Fire tablets. Fire OS 3.1 updates the innards of Amazon's variant of the Android OS and adds several new features to the tablets as detailed by Whittaker.

There's nothing particularly unique about this update from Amazon, and that's why Kindle Fire owners will like it. Unlike most other Android tablets, every owner of a Kindle Fire HD and HDX tablet will have this update pushed to be installed when convenient.

The simplified UI coupled with the automatic update process employed by Amazon with the Kindle Fires is directly contrary to the typical Android tablet situation.

Amazon has effectively positioned its Kindle Fires to be totally removed from the Android system as far as buyers are concerned. The graphical interface is very consumer oriented and is welcomed by the non-techie consumer.

The simplified UI coupled with the automatic update process employed by Amazon with the Kindle Fires is directly contrary to the typical Android tablet situation.

Many Android tablet owners are tech-savvy and prone to tweak the software running their devices. They also pine to get the latest version of Android onto their devices, and will often go to great lengths to do so. The ability to play around with the Android OS is a big draw to this group, and why many look down their noses at the simplified Kindle Fire line of tablets. Being locked into a walled garden with a simple UI wrapper is often the reason these Android enthusiasts give for avoiding the iPad, too.

That's not only OK with Amazon, it's what they've worked hard to achieve. While Amazon's Fire OS is built on an Android base, it's evolved into its own OS aimed at satisfying the Kindle Fire audience. Amazon realized early on that the vast newbie market segment was the only one that mattered for its purposes, not the comparatively small tech-savvy group of consumers.

Fire OS has evolved into Amazon's own system, removed from the Android platform. That puts the company in firm control of the entire Kindle Fire experience, from hardware to software to ecosystem. That level of control is only enjoyed by Apple with its iPad, the big dog in the tablet fight.

Most Kindle Fire owners I speak with really appreciate one facet of their tablets: the simplicity. They turn them on and easily do the things they want, and that is also true with the system updates. The tablet tells them an update is available and then walks them through the few steps to get it done. They restart the Kindle Fire and have new features not only available, but carefully explained how best to use them.

That's why the automatic deployment of the Fire OS is so important to both the company and its customers. To the typical non-techie Kindle Fire owner, it's not really an OS update. It's a case of Amazon looking out for them and sending them new features. In other words, it's the way these sort of things should work.

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Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Android, Tablets

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17 comments
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  • I'm liking the HDX more and more

    I think this will be perfect for my wife. She is an avid reader and loves the paper white (I think that's the name). She hates tech for the most part. My Ipad 2 is way too complicated for her (and I'm dumping it because it lacks the power I need). I honestly think Amazon is on to something here and I hope they succeed big time. They have been smart in aiming at a market that no one else seems to be looking at. The consumer! (not the techie). They have priced it right and I selfishly want it so i can download streaming movies.
    larsonjs
    • You will not be sorry.

      My wife and I are each on our 2nd Kindle Fire. We passed the first to down to our children and got new ones for ourselves. My wife also is a typical non-teckie consumer. For her to ask for the new one was very surprising. Mostly because the old one ran out of memory but still, for her to ask another of the same thing is amazing.
      MichaelInMA
  • Check the Nook, too

    One of our g-kids' "other grandmother" had a Kindle and liked it, but then bought a Nook, which she liked even better and cost less. Teen g-daughter Marina has now had a Nook for two year and loves it. Her large band of cousins have every kind of phone and tablet there is, from i$ devices to the $69 Walmart tablets I bought for the preteens (who always break their first ones). The Nooks lacks some features, notably camera. But wait, said wife Debbie.... don't all of us have phones with cameras? We adults, anyway? And do we really want teenage girls with webcams, unsupervised? Um.... no. We don't, since most tales of teenage girls getting into trouble on the Internet start with selfies. So We own Nooks. Clear screens, do everything we need, including typing on bluetooth keyboards when needed,
    robin@...
  • This is the way Android should update across the board

    The HUGE mistake Android made was leaving updates in the hands of the OEMs, which as far as I can tell, couldn't care less about pushing out updates. Thus my Samsung Galaxy s4 is stuck with 4.2.2 and at&t could care less, while my HP Slate is stuck with 4.1. which HP seems again not to care about updating even though the version on the Slate appears to be totally stock Android.
    eye4bear
  • Great if you have a new Kindle

    I bought my wife a Kindle Fire in August before the new Fires came out. Apparently it is now obsolete because there is no updates for it. Amazon has made it clear you need to buy a new Fire to get any operating system updates and that sucks. It still works fine but I don't like the feeling we have been abandoned just 3 months after purchase.
    mtghswan
    • How thoughtless of Amazon....

      to leave so many of their original Kindle Fire users in the barren land of obsolescence - regardless of how long the device may have been owned. What does that predict for the newer HD / HDX machines as far as future usability??? Just sayin... Oh, wait, don't PCs and i$ do the same, to say nothing of PHONES, etc., etc..... Arrrgh
      Willnott
      • No, PCs don't do the same

        Where did you get that piece of info?
        Michael Alan Goff
    • You sure?

      I expect Amazon to update the older Kindle Fires too. I'm not aware they've said they won't.
      JamesKendrick
      • Probably not

        So far, their upgrade history does not suggest that the older models will receive an update to the newer OS.
        JeffGr
  • Great Time For Tech

    A good friend whose Windows machine I support bought a Kindle Fire HD 7" on a whim while watching one of the shopping channels.

    He hasn't needed any Win support since he bought the Kindle - hardly uses it anymore. The behemoth sits on his desk collecting dust while he has fun.

    BTW, he never had to seek any advice from me on setting up or using the Kindle. It's that easy...I'm happy for him.
    louishelps
  • Security vulnerabilities

    Let's hope Amazon knows how to retrofit security updates too.

    After all, these things are purchasing engines, and have your confidential purchasing data.
    varase
  • Not Sure Updates Should Be Considered a Strength

    Let me start off by saying that I have owned a first-generation Kindle Fire, the Kindle Fire HD, and recently bought the Kindle Fire HDX. The Fire series has worked exceptionally well for my needs and are probably among my most-used pieces of tech. This is despite the fact that I am an extremely experienced tech enthusiast with a tendency to customize some devices, such as my Android phone and Windows laptop, very heavily. It is because I use the Fire mainly for content consumption (particularly ebooks, video, and social networking), I find its more appliance-like UI to be an advantage. I have other devices for more "power user" tasks.

    That said, I don't really think Amazon's approach to updates is something that should be considered a key strength of the Kindle Fire series. The reason for this is, at least so far, Amazon has essentially orphaned each model as soon as the next generation has come out. While the older models may occasionally get bug fixes or simple security updates, new and enhanced features are strictly available on the newer models. Even with the Kindle Fire HD, only the refreshed version that just came out received the updated version of Fire OS. This is despite the fact that the refreshed version is actually a lower-end, less-powerful device (in order to let them cut the price down) than last year's model.

    Amazon is essentially treating these as disposable technology, essentially encouraging owners to do yearly upgrades. So far, the increasingly powerful hardware combined with the aggressive pricing has resulted in that not being too tough a pill to swallow, but I don't know how well that approach will sustain long term. The HDX really has addressed most of the ergonomic shortcomings of the past models while packing in pretty much top-of-the-line components. I have doubts about how feasible it will be for them to come up with a next generation model that is that enticing an upgrade. If they don't, I admit that I will probably be fairly annoyed if they introduce major feature enhancements that are only available with mildly refreshed hardware.
    JeffGr
  • Fire is a Gingerbread device

    Amazon uses a gimped version of Android because they have a different intended use for their tablets... it's sole purpose is to be a sales portal for the Amazon store. EVERY other use is set far behind the purpose of getting you to make purchases.

    While Android has their own markets where you can buy books, movies, music, etc, you're more than welcome to add your own content to your tablet. Your own music, movies, apps from many different markets, etc.

    And down to the nuts & bolts, the Fire uses Android 2.3 as it's basis. That's Gingerbread. The OS before Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly bean, and now Kit Kat. It's quite primitive in the 2013 world of mobile operating systems. Add in the fact it was never intended for tablet uses... there's reason why the Fire's performance is so far behind modern Android tablets in every objective benchmark testing.

    But, if your 75 year old grandmother can manage it's operation, I guess Amazon can count it as a victory.
    DennyCraneFTW
    • Incorrect

      The original Kindle Fire used a variation of Gingerbread. Last year's Kindle Fire HD was based on Ice Cream Sandwich and the new Kindle Fire HDX is based on Jelly Bean.
      JeffGr
    • Also outdated info on benchmarks

      In addition, your a bit out of date on the benchmarks. That was true of the original Kindle Fire, but the HDX is widely being reported to be the fastest performing Android tablet on the market at the moment.
      JeffGr
  • The problem is the software.

    I have a Kindle Fire HD and I do like the way it handles updates. The hardware is a great value and there are some features that I really like. I like the integration with Prime and the HDMI output so you can watch programs on a full size TV. I really don’t like the user interface with the carrousel. It is like cover flow on the iphone, it looks nice but it is totally useless. You have to dig in the user interface to get to apps. I wish you could turn the carrousel off or at least customize it. Amazon software has no privacy features and this really bothers me. Then you’re locked out of the Google play store. Yes, you can get around this, but then you have other problems. I like my Kindle Fire HD, but my next tablet will NOT be a Kindle because of the weird software. I had to comment on this because the article was positive about the software. The software stinks and Amazon needs to do a lot of work on it. The hardware is a great value, and I like the integration with the Amazon store, but the software is a problem.
    KLS 12.5
  • Have several kinds and sizes of tabs

    Windows, iOS, Android, and Kindles - never have to do anything but pick up my Kindles and use them.

    The others have features that make them nice - Windows for a full OS - iOS fits in with my job - droid for surfing - smaller and lighter than windows and can still do some plugins if needed - but they all need to be placated about something before I can just do what I wanted to do - not so with my Kindles - best user experience possible.
    Zippereye125