What is Amazon FireOS?

Amazon released its first Kindle Fire tablet in 2011. A budget device aimed at bringing the burgeoning tablet form factor and Amazon services to the masses, the original Kindle Fire was pushed as the first viable iPad alternative. Since 2011 Amazon has continued to release the plethora of devices running Fire OS, from updated Kindle Fire tablets to its Fire TV streaming devices. Fire OS is eleven years old now, but confusion surrounding what it has continued to persist. Is Fire OS a version of Android? Can I download Android apps on Fire tablets? Does Google services even work on Amazon’s tablets? These are questions some have asked since the inception of Fire OS.


Is Fire OS based on Android and will my apps work?

Answering the first question is easy—yes. Fire OS is a forked version of the Android operating system. Although Google makes Android, it’s an open source operating system. Any person or company is free to take Android and use it as they wish in a variety of applications. That’s what Amazon is doing with Fire OS. Amazon takes the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and modifies it into its own operating system for tablets, streaming devices, and more.

Can you download Android apps, and will your Google services work? That’s a more complicated question. Fire OS devices do run Android apps, but only ones that are downloaded via the Amazon App Store or sideloaded via an APK file. Officially, Google services like the Play Store and Gmail aren’t available. While Google allows companies like Amazon to create a forked version of Android based on AOSP, there are some heavy limitations if they do so.

What is an Android Fork?

An Android fork is based on AOSP but is not maintained by Google. In the case of Fire OS, Amazon created a new Android project that it maintains and tweaks to its liking. The company regularly upgrades Fire OS with the latest AOSP changes, though, so it’s not completely removed from Google’s development cycle. You can think of Fire OS as a custom ROM like Lineage OS, but with a company working on it instead of volunteers.

How does this differ from an Android skin, like Samsung’s One UI? In many ways, they are the same. Samsung takes Android and adds its design and features. The difference is that an Android skin has to be certified by Google to ensure that no modifications break the APIs that developers rely on and that all of Google’s apps and features work correctly.

Because Google doesn’t verify Android forks to work with its APIs and features, Google doesn’t allow Google Mobile Services (GMS) to be used. That’s why Fire OS devices don’t have official access to the Play Store, Gmail, or even YouTube.

Amazon chose this route with Fire OS for a simple reason—money and control. When manufacturers include Google’s GMS package, there are plenty of terms and conditions they have to agree to. Certain Google apps must come preinstalled and Google Search must be the device default. As well as giving up that level of control, most users prefer to use the Play Store to Amazon’s alternative, and Amazon doesn’t make any money from that.

By cutting out Google and making its own Android Fork, Amazon can retain complete control over its OS and the devices it runs on and enjoy all of the profits from the Amazon App Store without sharing them with anyone.

There is a way to get Google Mobile Services running on Fire OS devices, but it isn’t official and could easily break if Amazon or Google changes something. If it’s something you want to try, you can check out our guide to installing the Google Play Store on every Amazon Fire tablet.

Should I buy a Fire Tablet?

Fire OS is a successful product for Amazon. It’s a well-optimized operating system that runs well on slower hardware, allowing the company to ship inexpensive devices that perform well despite their modest spec sheet.

But there are caveats customers should be aware of before buying a Fire Tablet. Despite Amazon’s best efforts, the number of apps available on the Amazon App Store pales compared to the Google Play Store. You’ll find big named apps like Facebook and Twitter, but all of the Google apps are missing, including YouTube. Installing Google Services is possible with sideloading, but it’s far from a polished experience.

If you can live with those limitations, then an Amazon tablet could be a good fit for you, especially if you make some tweaks once you have it. But if you rely on Google apps and services and don’t want to sideload them, a tablet running a Google-certified version of Android will fit your needs better.

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