What Mobile Operating System Does Fire OS Use?

Amazon’s enduringly popular Fire tablets run on Fire OS operating system, but what is this and why should you care?

That’s what we’ll be walking you through today with this brief guide to the stripped-down OS that keeps these devices ticking over.

While this operating system is based on Android, you won’t benefit from any apps or services from Google. It’s more accurate to say that Fire tablets run lots of Android code and make use of Android apps rather than claiming that they run on Android. They don’t.


What Is Fire OS?

Fire OS, then, is a mobile operating system created by Amazon and based on Android.

This OS is intended for the Fire tablets, phone, and TV, as well as some Echo devices.

The operating system is forked from Android’s open source operating system. It’s packed with proprietary software, and the user interface is customized so it focuses primarily on content consumption. There are heavy links to content found in Amazon’s own storefronts or services. This is not surprisingly, as most tech firms like to lock you into their ecosystem. Amazon is no different, it just does things bigger and better.

Since its inception, Kindle Fire has always utilized tweaked Android distributions, but the operating system was only labeled Fire OS starting with the third iteration of Fire tablets. The earlier models ran on an operating system “based on Android”, while Fire OS 3.0 is termed “compatible with Android.”

Now, before we explore some of the core differences between Fire OS and Android upon which it’s based, a glimpse at the Fire and other devices running this OS…


What Devices Run on Fire OS?

The following devices all run on Fire OS:

  • Fire line of tablets
  • Fire Phone
  • Fire TV
  • Amazon Echo
  • Amazon Echo Show


What’s The Difference Between Fire OS and Android?

For the average consumer, the main difference between Fire OS and Android is obvious and striking: you can’t access Google Play Store on Fire tablets. 

What can you do instead, then?

Unsurprisingly, you’ll be limited to the Amazon Appstore. You’ll also be using all of Amazon’s apps rather than Google apps, so that’ll be Silk browser rather than Chrome.

Beyond this ecosystem issue, there are other differences between these operating systems.

On Android devices, you get the freedom to tweak the launcher. With Fire OS, you’ll get the default home screen experience whether you like it or not. This typically shows a grid layout of apps, but you’ll also see music, videos, and e-books from Amazon here. There’s even a portal for Amazon’s own marketplace. 

None of these elements are unexpected. As mentioned, tech companies all like to draw you in and make it as hard as possible for you to leave their ecosystem while making them as much money as possible.

Fire OS offers a nice touch with Kindle FreeTime. This is a kid-friendly feature allowing you to combine an Amazon Unlimited subscription to yield child-appropriate content like books, movies, TV shows, and educational apps. As an added bonus, the Fire Kids Edition coms in a rugged case and a 2-year worry-free warranty. Fire OS, then, is designed with kids in mind.

What does the difference between these operating systems really boil down to, then?

For anyone who just wants a cheap tablet for basic web browsing, accessing email, and watching a movie, there’s little material difference between the operating systems. You’ll only be scratching the surface of the capabilities of either.

If you want access to the full ecosystem of Android apps without rooting and otherwise jumping through hoops, Fire OS won’t make the grade.

All said, this seems a reasonable trade-off: get an inexpensive tablet for fifty bucks, but use Amazon’s app store and services in place of the mighty G’s.

The bottom line, Amazon wants to make as much money as possible from you in terms of digital sales. Think about the cheapest version of Fire, for instance. This comes loaded with lock-screen ads you can only remove by paying.

Ultimately, there are actually two Androids…

On devices like those made by LG, HTC, and Samsung, you’ll get an Android device that’s certified by Google. All these devices use Android OS. They all come bundled with Google Mobile Services, including Google Play Store and the full suite of Google apps like Google Maps and Gmail.

Beyond this, Android is also an open source project.

The AOSP (Android Open Source Project) code is open source-licensed so that any developer or manufacturer can take and use the code for their own purposes.

AOSP does not include Google Mobile Services, though, and it doesn’t include other components of Android that are licensed separately.

This code is used on the cheapest Chinese Android tablets, and you’ll need to install all the Google apps separately.


Why Did Amazon Create Fire OS Rather Than Using Google’s Android?

When Amazon launched its own tablets, the company wanted to build its own operating system. It made economic sense to work from the Android AOSP code rather than starting from scratch to create a new operating system from the ground up.

Not only did this approach save Amazon time and money, but all existing Android apps can be ported to Fire OS.

This brings an obvious question: why didn’t Amazon decide to use Google’s Android instead?

Well, we return to the same point already raised: Amazon wants to remain in control of the entire experience. It’s clearly in the company’s interests to get you using Amazon Appstore, Prime, Amazon Music and the Kindle apps rather than handing you over to Google Play for your purchases.


Ultimately, the raison d’etre for the Fire tablets is to provide a cheap window into the Amazon suite of services.


How Can You Make Fire OS More Like Android?

The similarities between Android and Fire OS mean there are some simple steps you can take to recreate the Android experience without going to the trouble of rooting your Fire device.

You can:

  • Install Google Play Store
  • Use a different launcher
  • Switch off some Amazon-specific features

It goes unsaid that these moves are supported by neither Amazon nor Google, but you can achieve this if you’re prepared to put in a little groundwork. We’ll leave it to you to make your own decision and do your own research here.


Final Thoughts

If you want an inexpensive tablet that’s ideal for reading books, browsing a variety of media, and checking your email and social media accounts, an Amazon Fire tablet makes perfect sense.

For all those looking to embrace the whole Google ecosystem without hacking their way around, Android is the best option.

You should now be clear on the differences between Fire OS and Android, and we hope you enjoyed today’s quick guide. Bookmark Pick My Reader before you go, and be sure to pop back soon!

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