New hardware without a software refresh? Don't make Jeff Bezos laugh. Today's arrival of three new slates also marks the unveiling of the company's latest tablet operating system. And this time, it even has a name. See, Amazon's been using "Fire OS" internally to describe the software powering its tablet line, and now we get to use it as well, with the arrival of version 3.0. As ever, Bezos and Co. have based the OS on Android (Jelly Bean, this time out), with this year's codename being "Mojito" -- a move from candy names to sugary cocktails. The operating system will ship on the new HDX and HD devices. We weren't able to confirm that it will roll out to older devices, but an Amazon rep we spoke with implied that there's a good chance of that, given earlier precedents.
First thing's first: there's still no Google Play access. No surprise there, of course. After all, the company's in the habit of subsidizing the cost of its hardware based on future content sales. Still, as ever, the company was quick to point out the speed with which its proprietary app store has grown in recent years. UI-wise, things look familiar. Content is still king, with the home screen built around a river of apps, games, movies, music, et cetera. The company did respond to customer concerns, however, by adding a more familiar grid-style layout that you can access with a swipe up, which should appease all you Android users out there. Swipe from the right, and you'll see Quick Switch, which lets you switch between different recently used pieces of content.
The new feature that had Bezos particularly giddy is Mayday. The button's based in the Quick Settings (also accessible with a swipe), alongside options for Auto-Rotate, Brightness, Wireless, Quiet Time (to shut off those nagging notifications, when you're doing things like reading). The feature bakes a live, human help module directly into the OS (on the HDX, at least -- the HD doesn't have a mic to support it). A little box will pop up with a real, live person on the other end. You can see them, but they can only see your screen -- and, if prompted, they'll pause their end, so they can't see you do things like entering passwords.
Amazon's utilizing its existing army of help technicians for the feature, and will likely be employing even more folks for the inevitable Christmas crunch. Help comes in the form of asking to adjust settings or less-serious things like getting game recommendations. The Amazon employee can either take you through the steps by drawing some Monday Night Football-style circles and arrows on the screen, or they can just do it for you. It's a really promising feature, for sure, particularly for Amazon's sizable user base of kids and some non-tech-savvy grownups. We'll admit, however, that it took a little getting used to talking to someone in that way, particularly when they couldn't see us back -- though many times that'll likely be for the best.
Second Screen is Amazon's big push to get people to use their Fires in front of their TVs. The feature "flings" content to your set, by way of your PlayStation 3 / 4 or Samsung smart TV. More content partners are coming, as well. When we asked specifically about Chromecast, we just got a "stay tuned," however. The content itself isn't actually streamed from the tablet. Instead, the set is pulling it down from the cloud, but you can still use your Fire to control it. Once the content is flung, you'll get contextual information by way of X-Ray, which now also features the names of songs that are playing, character names and trivia from Amazon's IMDb service. Speaking of X-Ray, 3.0 brings X-Ray Music, which includes lyrics licensed (not crowdsourced, mind) by Amazon. You'll be able to see them whether or not you're online.
As with the Paperwhite, Goodreads is now built in -- or at least it will be by the time 3.1 rolls around. Once that 3.1 upgrade starts rolling out over the air (sometime in mid-November), Goodreads will offer the ability to share quotes, review titles and get recommendations as you're reading the book. Reading Mode, meanwhile, turns off unnecessary processes while your nose is in a book, giving you up to 17 hours of life on the HDX devices. The company is using Mojito to make a big push toward enterprise users, for those who prefer to take their personal device to work. There's support for wireless printing for documents, email with threaded messaging and support for enterprise services like VPN and Kerberos authentication. Amazon is also talking up the ease of developing for the operating system, when it comes to porting over apps from Android, thanks to support for Native Android App Compatibility.
Philip Palermo contributed to this report.
Amazon Kindle Fire
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch
Amazon Fire HD 7-inch 3rd-gen