Amazon releases Fire OS 4: Adds Firefly to tablets, integrates cloud

Amazon's latest mobile operating system lands with a few new features, notably Dynamic Light Control, deep cloud integration, and Firefly product matching for tablets.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

NEW YORK — Raise a glass to "Sangria," Amazon's codename for the next version of its Fire OS platform, which is finally out in the wild.

Amazon on Wednesday revealed the fourth iteration of its smartphone and tablet platform, Fire OS 4, which lands with a bevy of new features for consumers, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) owners, and business users alike.

A step forward in the right direction, at least for its niche number of business users, Fire OS 4 lands with deeper cloud integration, an updated user interface, and profiles for multiple accounts — including individualized preferences for email, social, and settings.

Based on Android 4.4 KitKat, Amazon built Fire OS 4 on top using existing developer hooks, creating a new experience for the device.

It doesn't look a whole lot different to its nearest predecessor, but Amazon executives promised that with the new hardware, also announced Wednesday, the mobile operating system utilizes every shred of device processing power, making the overall experience faster but not too different as to alienate users.

Overall, from the first impressions, it's more responsive and packs in a number of new features and settings, which Amazon aims will help customize devices in the sweet spot between locked-down iPhones, and open-season Android devices.

To wit:

  • Deeper cloud integration: Fire OS 4 lands with deep cloud integration, albeit Amazon's own cloud services. Amazon's cloud syncs the device across other platforms, and power services that need more processing, the company says. It also opens up apps, games, and books library sharing, across devices. But until companies like Dropbox, Microsoft, and Google support Fire OS, the devices running the platform are locked in to Amazon's cloud.
  • Profiles: A feature expanded on from Android, user profiles makes its way to Fire OS 4, allowing multiple users to share a device, or have one tablet for each family. It individualizes apps, the carousel menu, and libraries. BYOD users can also use it to set up a barrier between work and personal.
  • Better battery life with Smart Suspend: Amazon touted Smart Suspend as the new way to save battery life. It sets up a device-specific profile over time to proactively turn off wireless functionality, delivering up to 25 percent more battery life, Amazon says.
  • Advanced Streaming and Prediction: Dubbed "ASAP," devices running Fire OS 4 can now predict which movies and TV content you may want to watch next, while caching them in the background. 
  • Improved Firefly, tablet compatible: Amazon's Firefly service, which first debuted on the Fire Phone, allows users to snap photos and match items in the Amazon.com store. It now comes as standard with the Fire HDX 8.9. It also has a new snap-and-translate feature, which can translate text in French, Italian, Spanish, and German on the fly.
  • Free cloud-based photo storage: Amazon said Fire OS 4 users now have free and "unlimited" photo storage — including full-resolution snaps — in Amazon's cloud. Photos are uploaded wirelessly.

Fire OS 4 will land on all fourth-generation Fire tablets as standard, with third-generation Fire tablets eligible for the free over-the-air upgrade. 

Amazon Fire Phone users will have to wait a little longer. Fire OS 4 will land on Amazon's Fire Phone early next year, executives said.

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