Amazon’s Fire OS vs. Google’s Android: What’s the Difference?

Amazon Fire tablets run the Amazon Fire OS operating system. Fire OS is based on Android, but it doesn’t have any of Google’s apps or services. Here’s what that means and how exactly they’re different.

It is not really correct to say that Amazon Fire tablets run Android. But, in another sense, they run a lot of Android code. All of the apps you’ll run on a Fire tablet are Android apps as well.

The quick response

For the average person, the big difference between a regular Android tablet and Amazon’s Fire tablet is that the Google Play Store is not present on the Fire tablet. Instead, you’re limited to Amazon’s Appstore and the apps available there. You will also not have access to Google applications or services. You’ll be using Amazon’s own apps, Silk browser instead of Chrome, for example.

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There are other differences, of course. Amazon does not allow you to modify the launcher like you normally can on Android devices, so you will be using the Amazon home screen experience. Amazon’s home screen can display a grid of apps, but it also shows you videos, music, and eBooks from Amazon. The home screen even has Amazon’s shopping site on it, so you can buy more stuff and give Amazon more money.

Fire OS has a fun, kid-friendly “Kindle FreeTime” feature that can be combined with an “Unlimited” subscription to access thousands of kid-friendly educational apps, books, movies and TV shows . Amazon even sells a Fire tablet designed specifically for kids that bundles a number of services together and adds a nice “kid-proof” case. These child-friendly parental control features are one of the most unique features of Fire OS.

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But what does the difference really mean? Well, if you just want a cheap tablet for browsing the web, checking emails, and watching videos, there’s not much of a difference. If you want the entire Android app ecosystem without jumping through the hoops, you might want to get a more typical Android tablet.

That’s Amazon’s value proposition, after all. You can get a cheap Kindle Fire tablet for $ 50, but you’ll have to use Amazon’s app store and services instead of Google’s. Amazon hopes to make more money for you in digital sales. The cheaper version of the tablet even comes with lock screen ads, and you have to pay a little extra if you want to remove them.

Android, Google mobile services and AOSP

There really are two androids. There is the Google “Android” that you see on devices from Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony and other major device makers. And it’s not just the Android operating system, it’s an Android device that the manufacturers have certified by Google. The device uses the Android operating system and comes with Google mobile services, which include the Google Play Store and other Google apps like Gmail and Google Maps.

But Android is also an open source project. The open source project is known, quite simply, as the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). AOSP code is licensed under a permissive open source license, and any manufacturer or developer can take the code and use it for whatever they want.

Google mobile services are not part of the Android open source project, and a lot of things that people think of as “Android” – including the Google Play Store and all of Google’s services – are not included in Android. They are authorized separately.

The cheapest Android tablets, the ones you get for $ 30 straight from a factory in China, are just that AOSP code. If you want to use Google Play, you need to install the Google apps separately after you get the tablet.

Why Amazon Created Fire OS Instead of Using Google’s Android

Amazon wanted to create its own operating system for its tablets. Rather than starting from scratch, Amazon takes this Android AOSP code and modifies it to create “Fire OS”.

This saves Amazon time as they can build on Google’s efforts rather than starting from scratch. It also means that all of those existing Android apps can be easily “ported” to Fire OS, which is basically the same as Android anyway.

But why isn’t Amazon just using Google’s Android? Well, Amazon wants to control the whole experience. Rather than relying on Google Play for app purchases, video rentals, music downloads, and eBooks, Amazon wants you to use the Amazon Appstore, Prime Instant Videos, Amazon Music, and Amazon Kindle apps. That’s the purpose of the Amazon Fire tablet line, anyway, it’s an inexpensive window into Amazon’s services. Once you have the hardware, you’re more likely to spend money on additional Amazon products and services.

Google Play services are only for Android from Google

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More and more, more and more of what a typical person thinks of as “Android” is actually part of Google Play services and Google’s own apps. Most of the typical Google Play Android apps are written to use Google Play services to access GPS locations, payments, and more. These apps cannot simply be placed directly on a Fire OS device, where Google Play services are not present. Amazon needs to provide alternative APIs for developers, and developers may have to do a bit of homework to port their Android apps from the Google Play Store to Amazon’s Fire operating system. This is a big reason why not all Android apps are present.

Amazon Appstore vs. Google Play

As we mentioned earlier, the biggest difference for the average Kindle tablet user will be the presence of Amazon’s Appstore instead of Google Play. Android app developers can choose to list their apps in the Amazon Appstore as well as Google Play. Not all developers do this, but many do.

In practice, this means that you don’t have access to all the Android apps that you would normally have with an Android tablet, but you do have access to quite a few. You can search Amazon’s Appstore on the Web to see if the apps you are using are available in the Amazon Appstore.

Amazon also makes its “Appstore” application available for download. You can install the Amazon Appstore on standard Android smartphones and tablets, then download apps from there instead of Google Play. These are Android apps, so they will work on both Android and Fire OS.

But you can turn a Fire tablet into a “Google Android” device.

Since Fire OS is so close to Android, there are a number of steps you can take to make the Fire tablet look more like the original Android (without rooting). These include installing the Google Play Store, using a more traditional launcher, and disabling a number of Amazon-specific features.

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None of this is officially supported by Google or Amazon, but it is possible and it doesn’t even require you to root your device. The big difference here is that you have to do a bit of homework to get there. And, of course, there’s a possibility that Amazon will crack down on this in future versions of Fire OS and make things more difficult. But since Fire OS 8, at least, that hasn’t happened yet.

For a cheap tablet for watching videos, reading books, listening to music, browsing the web, checking email, and using Facebook, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are a steal.

Android users who want to access the entire Play Store and all of Google’s apps, without hacking, may want a standard Android tablet.

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