The History of Fire OS

It's all about media consumption with Fire OS

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Fire OS is Amazon’s operating system for its tablets and other media-friendly devices, such as TVs. It’s an Android-compatible OS configured with a new, completely custom user-interface. 

Fire OS was first released in November 2011 with Amazon’s first Kindle Fire tablet and was based on Android’s Gingerbread 2.3.3 OS. Fire OS was also the mobile operating system used on Amazon’s Fire Phone when it debuted in July 2014.

Fire OS doesn't offer access to the Google Play Store or Google's other first-party apps like Maps or its various messaging apps. Instead, Amazon offers its own apps to provide similar functionality, including email and apps to consume media.

Alongside phones and tablets like the Fire, HD, and HDX, Fire OS is used on Amazon's other devices like the Echo, Echo Show, TV Stick, and Fire TV. It's also included on some TVs from Toshiba and Insignia.

While Echo devices use Fire OS under-the-hood, there are few similarities to the tablets and TV devices, which share a closer feature set. The Echo Show is closest to a tablet with its display and touchscreen, but does not support Amazon's Appstore.

Fire OS 6

Underlying Android codebase: Android 7.1 Nougat

Current version: 6.3.0.1. It was released in November 2018

Initial version: 6.2.1. It was released in October 2017

Fire OS 6 was first released in October 2017 and is based on Android Nougat 7.1. It first appeared for Fire TV devices. Amazon did not heavily promote the release of Fire OS 6.

Fire OS 5

Underlying Android codebase: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop

Current version: 5.6.3. It was released in November 2018

Initial version: 5.0. It was announced in September 2015 and began rolling out shortly after.

Fire OS 5 is the broadest version of the OS in use, widely targeted at Fire TV devices. Fire OS 5 also refreshed the visual look of Fire OS and moved to a more grid-based look over the previous "carousel" interface.

Amazon also removed device encryption from Fire OS 5, but restore the feature with a later update.

Fire OS 5 has been updated to support these features:

  • Support for USB mass storage devices on Fire TV to expand capacity.
  • Speed reading feature: Word Runner.
  • Support for connecting to Wi-Fi with web authentication. For example, at airports and hotels.
  • Enhanced parental controls with FreeTime browser.
  • Support for using Bluetooth headphones with Fire TV.
  • Support for Prime Music Playlists.
  • Support for sleep or mirroring shortcuts for Fire TV from remote.

Fire OS 4

Underlying Android codebase: Android 4.4 KitKat

Current version: 4.6.6.1

Initial version: 4.1.1

Android 4.0, called Ice Cream Sandwich brought support for various sized devices such as Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7, and Kindle Fire HD 8.9, all of which were released in 2012.

Fire OS 4 added support for these features:

  • Free video tech support through Mayday, support on HDX and Fire Phone.
  • Silk browser, which used cloud-acceleration
  • Amazon Appstore for compatible apps and games.
  • Second Screen to support sending content to supported TVs and game consoles.
  • User profiles for individual settings and apps.

Fire OS 3

Underlying Android codebase: 4.1 Jelly Bean

Current version: 3.5.1

Initial version: 3.5.0

Fire OS 3 was the first official release of Fire OS. Prior to Fire OS 3, Amazon devices didn't have a public name other than Android codenames. This release was largely tied to the introduction and support of Amazon's first mobile phone, the Fire Phone.

Early Fire OS

Underlying Android codebase: 2.3 Gingerbread

Current version: Unknown

Initial version: 2.3.0

  • Movie rentals for longer time periods
  • Synchronization with Amazon cloud

Amazon has kept the history of Fire OS purposefully vague and tangled. The operating system isn't the core of its products — its services are — and so it doesn't draw attention to it or widely highlight milestones. Amazon also has a complicated relationship with Google and it doesn't seem to like the fact its operating system is built from code based on Android.

Fire OS versions also don't match up to Android versions they're compatible with, and though Amazon publicly mentions Fire OS, it prefers to highlight the media consumed on its devices, rather than the software powering it.