What's what with Amazon's Fire OS 3.x

Amazon has a new Android-based operating system for its new line of Kindles - for business as well as fun.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Believe it or not, the most popular Android tablets are Amazon Kindle Fire devices. And, if you're still thinking of the Kindle Fire line as just being a fancy e-reader, think again. Its new operating system, Fire OS 3.0 "Mojito" is being designed not just for home-users but for business professionals as well.

Kindle Fire HDX
Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX might just be your next business tablet. (Credit: Amazon)

Fire OS 3.0 is based on Android 4.2.2, not Android 4.3 as widely reported. Like previous versions of Fire OS, Amazon has customized Android to use its online store and services' functionality. Unlike earlier versions, Fire OS 3.0 will only work with the new Kindle Fire HD and HDX series devices, and only the higher-end HDX will be able to fully use all Fire OS's new features. In addition, Fire OS 3.0 is only an interim release. The full capabilities of Fire OS will only come in mid-November with the release of Fire OS 3.1.

Amazon debuts revamped Kindle Fire HDX range, Fire OS 3.0 (pictures)

When all of Fire OS 3.1 is here, both home and business users will find a lot to like.

For home users, the top features include integration with Goodreads, an online social network for readers; Second Screen, which will enable you to stream your Amazon video content to your PlayStation 3 and Samsung TVs; and Quiet Time, which will mute the device during user-determined times or activities, such as reading.

That's all nice, but none of it's all that exciting. For example, Google's Chromecast does the Second Screen trick better by already supporting any video that can be played on a Web browser.

The business-class features are actually what's most interesting in Fire OS 3.1. The top-end Kindle Fire HDX, which will list for $379 for the 8.9-inch 16GB Wi-Fi and starts shipping on November 7 and the similar equipped 4G version that will cost $479 and start shipping on December 10, really are potential Microsoft Surface 2 competitors.

The MayDay feature will bring you technical support for your HDC whenever you need it. And, when the Web retail giant says whenever, they mean "whenever." Amazon promises 24-hours a day, 365-days a year live support in 15-seconds or less.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Amazon can control your device if you use MayDay. Now that may be fine if you end up using a HDX in a small business or BYOD situation. But, if you're working for a bigger or more security cautious, business, your IT department will have doubts about using an HDX tablet in the office.

On the other hand, the Fire OS 3.x includes management application programming interfaces (API)s so IT staffers can manage them via Mobile Device Management software vendors AirWatch, Citrix, Maas360, MobileIron, and SOTI. It's not the same as having say Active Directory (AD) on them, but it will still be enough for many shops.

The revised operating system also finally supports some threading in its built-in e-mail client. In addition, you'll finally be able to print wirelessly from the new Kindles.

Fire OS 3.x also supports encryption for the user partition to secure data on the device. Users will also be able to connect to secure enterprise Wi-Fi networks at work via a native or third-party virtual private network (VPN) client.

Which VPN protocol? Good question. Amazon hasn't answered it yet.

All-in-all Fire OS 3.x looks promising for business. Unfortunately until we have it our hands in a few weeks, that's about as much as we can say.

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