firechinaSome nice touches show up in the $50 Fire tablet expected later this year from Amazon—for example, the 6.6-inch screen. The current $100 equivalent offers merely a six-incher.

I can just see the ads, come Christmas, if the specs on the GFXBench site pan out: Bigger screen, half the price of the older Fire HD 6.

Resolution is at least adequate for the frugal, 1024 by 600, even if the CPU is slow. But something huge is still missing. Amazon badly needs to use “real” Android and junk the forked variant of the world’s most common operating system for smart phones.

Yes, the $50 tablet is just that, a tablet, not a phone. But many of the people using it, especially families in developing countries overseas, will want to be able to run the same software on all their devices. Perhaps they can afford just one gizmo now. But surely they must be looking ahead.

Overseas customers—this old ad is for the Chinese market—count. Amazon’s global tablet sales have badly slipped. Meanwhile the book, music and video offerings from rivals such as Google are only going to get stronger. Amazon wants to use its own hardware as a gateway to its own content.

But why am I actually suggesting that Amazon grow a little more Google-ish, in letting its hardware run the same apps? No mystery. That’s what the market wants. And even with pure Android rather than FireOS, it isn’t as if Amazon can’t fill the opening screen with easy-to-use applications leading to its rich collection of content—still far, far bigger than the competition’s.

Alas, one of Amazon’s biggest strengths may be one of its biggest weaknesses here—namely, Jeff Bezo’s ego. Never mind all the lost sales that the Fire Phone suffered due to Jeff’s FireOS fixation: he stuck with his Android to the bitter end.

Will Jeff wise up ultimately, in the case of both phones and tablets? Remains to be seen. (Same for the use of ePub rather than proprietary formats. People will still remain true to Amazon due to the size and breadth of its content inventory, as well as extras such as its forums and review communities.)

I’m actually pretty pro-ego. Without his, Bezos could never have summoned up the guts to give us the first Kindles. But FireOS is a loser. Kick the habit, Jeff. Customers and shareholders first!

Details: The 5.1 Android mentioned in the spec-related image on GFXBench almost surely isn’t the actual OS in the forthcoming Fire. It’s just the “original” Android. Of course, I’d love to be wrong about this.

In another area, yes, I’m quite aware you can run non-Amazon programs on Fires. But it’s a hassle, compared to just being able to call up apps from the Google Play Store, which ideally would be part of reborn Fires, in addition to Amazon’s own app store. Hey, Amazon’s video side has survived the ability of Fires to display Netflix movies.

More information: Liluputing, WinFuture, The Digital Reader and International Business Times.

And a reminder: We still need to keep an eye on the expected eight- and ten-inch models form Amazon. Econo versions ahead?


  1. Great article. My own hunch is that, were we able to see Jeff Bezos’ grammar-school grade books, they’d be filled with “Does not play well with others.” Proprietary book formats and a non-standard Android illustrate that. Amazon is behaving a lot like IBM in the 1960s and 1970s. Eventually IBM got put down by the courts. Ditto AT&T, which also tried to have a market ruled by its own devices.


    This situation also illustrates Apple’s often unstated strength in mobile devices and why it dominated that market.

    Apple has its own walled garden, but life within it is quite comfortable. Apple, to its credit, seems to believe that its new products have enough new features to make them worth buying that it does not need to force obsolescence.

    My iPod mini must be over ten years old, but iTunes still knows how to put audiobooks on it. And my iPad 3 will still run Apple’s next revision in iOS, leaving out only features that it lacks the CPU muscle to handle. Ditto my iPhone 5. And Apple controls its iOS updates. There’s none of the hassle the other smartphones create by forcing users to go through their cellular provider for updates.

    I’m also spared all the ‘will this app run’ hassles of the Android world. The limited number of devices and iOS versions has a down side, but it does mean that if something isn’t compatible, that fact is well known. I’ve got numerous gripes about Apple, but in most cases their added cost is returned by a longer useful life.

    Not so Amazon. My Kindle 3 got only one update before Amazon forgot it existed. I still use it, because it was the last model with text-to-speech. Nothing Amazon has released since makes up for that loss. Amazon simply doesn’t add new features at the rate Apple does. And for many customers, cheap doesn’t trump versatile.


    There is one bit of good news that may or may not be true. I lack the technical expertise to know. That’s a claim that most ereaders, including Amazon’s, are using Apple’s open source WebKit tools. There’s apparently enough similarity between web browsers and ereaders for developer tools for the former to work with the latter. Epub is, after all, a lot like HTML.

    That might mean that Amazon is keeping a backdoor open for the day when it has to use epub, either because of a court settlement or simply because epub books look far better. My hunch is that Amazon will ride the proprietary wave only as long as it serves its interests. It has a long history of abandoning what doesn’t work. Its mobi format is now history and KF8 isn’t keeping up with epub.


    Going epub for Amazon would also be a step in the ‘right’ direction, which is that ebooks from any source can be read on the ereader app of a reader’s choice, perhaps with the grudging addition of a DRM plug-in for the retail source. That would make life a lot easier for customers. Right now we’re caught in something much like the incompatible browser wars of the mid-1990s. Then, may websites could only be viewed with certain browsers. It was a real pain.

    In the long run, retailers benefit from making customers happy. If they don’t some other retailer will. Corporate history is littered with companies that forgot that. When I was a kid, A&P and Sears dominated their retail markets. Now they are struggling has-beens. The same could happen with Amazon if it does not adapt to what people want.

    –Mike Perry

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