Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A major national bookseller decides that they want to make "The Reader’s Tablet." So they grab the Android source code, and they don’t bother to get their device approved by Google so that it can run their apps. Instead, they charge full speed ahead, with not just a custom UI layer but a complete reimagining of what an “Android” device should look like.

The app drawer? Gone. Pull-down notification area? Canned. Hardware keys have gone the way of the dustbin, except for a single iPad-style button. Even the concept of the home screen has been done away with, to be replaced with a bookshelf and a store. The device is still running Android under the hood, but you have to look really closely to tell -- there’s barely a mention of it on their site. It’s not until you get to the developers’ portal that you see official explanations of how the OS differs from stock Android.

Sound familiar? It’s the story of Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color.

In a way, it’s an Android success story. Android’s open-source programming code gave the struggling retailer a way to compete with Amazon’s online behemoth, plus Andy looks so cute reading on the Nook Developer site. But while the Nook Color is famous for its hackability, its stock firmware is more controlling than Apple’s circa 2007: A "walled garden" of apps that only work on it (and that you can’t even buy yet), and DRMed eBooks that in some cases are only readable on a Nook Color.

With the scope of Amazon’s ambitions, a "Kindle Pad" might not just shake up the Android world, but set the rest of the world a-Blaze as well. And in doing so, it might wall off even more of Android, this time into an Amazon-controlled garden.

Why would Amazon do this? They’ve got an Android app already.

Yes, and it lets people buy and read their DRMed Kindle books on Android devices. But Google has their own eBookstore, and their own mobile OS to feature it on. They aren’t partners just because Amazon has apps for their platform; they’re competitors. You know that Amazon wants to control their own destiny, and they know that black-and-white eReaders like today’s Kindle aren’t going to be around forever. The Android source code would give them a head start on designing its successor.

So does that mean they’re going to try to play nicely with their competitor, and jump through the hoops to get early access to code and to Google’s apps? Probably not. Google’s withholding the Honeycomb source makes it clear that they can hold Amazon back, if they choose to. Far from making a fork less likely, it only increases the chances that a company like Amazon would try to make a clean break, Barnes and Noble-style. Branching the Android code onto a new path, and carving out a new ecosystem.

What would it mean for customers?

Well, the Android tablet market is getting crowded... what better way to stand above it than by not selling an "Android" tablet?

Buyers wouldn't ask "Can this run my Android apps?" or "Does this lock me into Amazon’s platform?" To them, it wouldn’t be a crippled Android tablet, or a generic-brand iPad. It’d be a new and improved Kindle, with its own color touchscreen and app store. And the Kindle brand sells.

What would it mean for Android app developers?

It’d be both a headache or an opportunity. On the one hand, no one would make you write for it, any more than you have to write for today’s Appstore... it’s just a way to reach Amazon’s customers with your apps.

If anything, an Amazon Kindle Pad would be easier to target than "Android" would, since it would have one consistent form factor. That would get rid of a lot of the cost of developing Android apps... the optimizing for screen sizes and testing on different devices, that helps make Android apps look less polished than iOS ones and take up to 1.5x the resources to write and support.

On the other hand, future developers might start writing their apps for Amazon’s device first with Android ports as a secondary priority, sort of like how things are with iOS today. In essence, Android would end up competing with two closed platforms at once, although it’d probably be easier to get Amazon developers to defect than it is to get iPhone developers to do so.

Where will this forking madness end!?

First off, there’s no telling whether or not Amazon will actually do this. And second, they’re exceptional because of the cloud services and content stores they have, which compete with Google’s. Plus, a high-profile "defection" might strengthen Google’s commitment to work with their partners. After all, if making Android devices is good business, then there’s no reason to jump ship.

I personally think the Nook Color has been a net positive, and that even a walled-off Kindle Pad would be as well. If anyone’s going to make a new tablet, I’d rather it be based on Android than anything else. An underlying, open-source standard that no one company controls is good for everyone in the long run, even if it sometimes means tablets that aren't compatible with others and are locked into one store.

  • TareX

    I'm ok as long as their new ereader has a color Eink display, like Triton or Miracol...

    • TareX


      I mean it seems that it's been about 2 years of color Eink hype with no actual products...

  • http://androidized.com Lucian Armasu

    Forking madness? If Google really didn't want Android to be forked, they wouldn't have made it open-source in the first place.

    Personally, I think they should've named the open source code differently from the "Google code" - like Chromium/Chrome. It would still be the same code, but manufacturers wouldn't have much incentive to use the "fully" open source version, because it would have no brand recognition. That way Google would get what they want without too many straying away from the version of Android that they've envisioned.

  • Chopper Joe

    While I share your concerns and appreciate your comments, there is a compelling reason that it's unlikely we'll see a Kindle tablet.

    The Kindle is an excellent eReader with features not found on tablets, e.g., visible in bright light environments. A big part of why it works the way it does is because it is black and white. Switch to color, and every Android tablet is a Kindle tablet (Kindle app runs just fine on my rooted nookColor).

    But, as is often the case, I could be wrong....

    • ari-free

      You'd be wrong because people who have nooks are more likely to buy books from B&N instead of Amazon. Amazon would want a color Kindle at the very least to compete with B&N.
      I also wonder what B&N is thinking about the iPad. Amazon and B&N will have to go all the way android in order to deal with Apple.

    • Eric

      Color e-Ink is one direction a kindle tab could go. They could also do what B&N is doing. You have a kindle tab, with an LCD display for magazines and web browsing sold alongside the e-Ink version.

      However, as B&N found out, I believe most of the people would buy the color LCD. Those that want E-ink have likely already bought it. Those that don't will love the LCD.

      • ari-free

        And I will love a 10" s-amoled+ screen :)

  • Eric

    I agree that amazon will make a kindle pad. I agree that It will not have gapps.
    It will also have a huge leg up on the nook, since it will run the amazon app store by default.

    However, the thought of "porting" an app from a kindle to an android device is laughable. You are going to port an android app to android? Unless amazon makes their own API's that aren't part of android, it won't happen, because it won't need to. I don't believe amazon will make their own API's either, since they will most likely pull an apple and make most of their money in the app store. What better way to reduce your app store revenue than to make it so many devices can't buy them? Let's assume amazon makes this kindle pad, and manage to snatch as much as 1/3 of the android tablet market. Any apps developed for the kindle won't work on 2/3 of the devices, and less store profit.

    Not to mention, the kindle tab will, most likely, be a single core, 1Ghz device (what more does an ereader need?). People will buy it for a cheap price tag (expecting sales through he appstore), and the decent screen. I bet it sells for $200. If you are looking for a real android tablet, there are already dual core devices for $75 more than that, and the price can only drop. People won't buy it for a dedicated tablet, and most who do are more than likely to root/rom it, making any amazon API's useless anyway.

    • ari-free

      They wouldn't really need to do anything 'evil.' They'd just test to make sure that every app on the appstore would work very well on the Amazon tablet.
      That way, if you have a Amazon tab and you use their appstore, you know that everything will work. If you have some other tablet, the app might run perfectly but it wouldn't be guaranteed by the appstore testing process.

      • Eric

        I never used the term evil. In fact, you are basically stating what I did. Amazon is not likely to do anything to break compatibility with other android devices. However, your comment about them testing specifically for tab compatibility could well be true.

  • lilafc

    In my opinion, Google is not holding Amazon back to compete, they are holding EVERYONE back to make sure they put out a great product for ALL to use..

    • Coldman

      Of course they're not holding back Amazon specifically, but why should Amazon wait for Google if they have enough manpower to customize the crap out of a device while still benefitting from having Android just in case? B&N did it and it's many times smaller than Amazon.

  • JayMonster

    This makes no sense to me, and here is why. Amazon is far less shortsighted than B&N. Their appstore can sell apps on *EVERY* Android device even on those that do not have (g Tablet, Archos and whole host of other devices) the market installed. They are selling music and streaming to all Android devices, why would they throw that all away to stuff themselves into a nice?

    I have no doubt that Amazon has something in the works, but i think their differentiating factor will be what they bundle in, not what they fork off.

    And... Just out of curiosity, how can you speculate about a forking you don't have any evidence is happening, and then ask, "when will it stop?"

  • Thorn

    How well is the Nookcolor selling?

    I got my mother a E-ink Nook for Christmas because it works with library digital rental systems, unlike Amazon/Kindle.

    Frankly, I always saw the Nookcolor as a great iPad alternative, esp if you could root it. Half the cost and free 3g.

  • Jolt

    Amazons already making a walled garden out of their app store..

    Rejecting apps due to TOS violations but not explaining what the application violation is or even bothering to answer appeals..