Amazon has announced two new versions of its Kindle Fire tablet which are on a par with the Nexus 7. At the same time Fire OS has been upgraded to version 3.0, codenamed Mojito. Is the gulf between Android and Fire widening?
The simple answer is "no", but only if you are considering core services. Mojito is a fork of Android 4.2, aka Jelly Bean, with most of the Google services removed and a lot of Amazon services added. You can't access the Google Play store, for example, just the Amazon app store.
This customization of Android to serve another company is the price Google has to pay for keeping Android open source.
While Amazon might say that Fire OS is compatible with Android and HTML 5, the lack of Google Play Services does make a difference and this difference will increase as Google uses Play Services as a way to enhance Android without having to up-date the OS or delivers everything it does as open source.
The big new features of Fire OS 3.0 are a new email client, upgrades to the Silk browser, and a "Mayday" button which summons technical help in 15 seconds. The Mayday button sounds too good to be true with a techie popping up in a window offering help with any task you are having trouble with, using a remote desktop like feature. Of course, if there is a hardware fault the chances of the Mayday button working is zero. Will all tech support be delivered in this way in the near future? It certainly is an idea that Apple or Microsoft might like to consider.
Mojito, like earlier versions of the OS, starts from core Android and adds Amazon services such as GameCircle, Whispersync for Games. In app purchasing, device messaging, Amazon coins, and a range of accessibility tools. It also has an optimizing download manage, a new graphics pipeline. improved touch response and a reading mode which extended the battery life to 17 hours or so. The Whispersync features allows synchronization of the content of a set of Mojito devices via Amazon's cloud.
The end user also gets a range of content-related features, such as Goodreads, which lets users share their opinions of books; X-Ray for movies, tv and music, which gets information on programs; and Second Screen which allows users to send content to their TV. The Home screen has also been modified to provide a carousel or grid view of the users content. This makes Fire OS look very different to a typical Android.
It is worth noting that the second screen and goodreads features will be delivered as an over the air update sometime in November, along with printing support and some other extras. In other words, the hardware was ready to go, but the software needed more time to bake.
There is a new emulator and SDK for Fire 3.0 and for the new Kindle hardware. At the moment there is no word on whether or not earlier Kindle devices will be able to upgrade to Fire 3.0, but on past experience with Amazon and upgrades the chances are that as stated on the web site:
"The all-new Fire OS 3.0 is available exclusively on the new Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX tablets."
While it is clear that most Android apps will work on Fire OS, it is also clear that the two platforms are moving apart. If you decide to make use of one of Google's Play Services APIs then you app probably won't work on Fire OS and if you make use of one of the Amazon APIs, such as Device messaging for example, your app won't work on a standard Android.
As time ticks on we are seeing an example of OS speciation taking place before our eyes. Android is becoming two related, but not identical, platforms - Googledroid and Amazondroid.