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Until Android 12L, Amazon's Fire Tablets were the only Android tablets that really mattered

Fire Hd 8 Lifestyle 2
Fire Hd 8 Lifestyle 2 (Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

It should come as no surprise that we here at Android Central are just a big bunch of tech enthusiasts who love to spend our time on this site talking all about the best Android phones, smartwatches, and Chromebooks. However, as diehard fans of the Android ecosystem, there is one important product category that we tend to walk on thin ice around: Android tablets.

Now, this isn't because there aren't plenty of excellent Android tablets available. For example, with its Galaxy Tab S series, Samsung makes some of the best-looking and best-performing tablets outside the iPad. Heck, even Lenovo has been known to give us some exciting and innovative devices as well, particularly with their Yoga series of tablets.

Yet, for various reasons, it seems clear that the only real challenge to the iPad's tablet dominance in the Android space thus far, at least in the U.S., has come from Amazon.

What, you say, Amazon makes Android tablets?

Yep, Amazon has made some of the best and most popular Android tablets for a decade in its Fire Tablet line, and these are arguably the only Android tablets that have ever really mattered to date. However, Google's forthcoming OS update, dubbed Android 12L, means that the Android tablet landscape may finally be ready for a dramatic change.

Kindling a Fire

Amazon Fire HD 10

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Amazon announced the first (Kindle) Fire Tablet back in 2011, at a time when the world of Android tablets was dominated by devices like the Motorola Xoom and Google's own Nexus 7. The software running on all Fire tablets since then — called, of course, Fire OS — was one of the first major (tablet) forks of the Android operating system, and arguably, the most important Android fork this side of China.

Be honest, did you realize that Fire Tablets ran a version of Android?

I jokingly hinted above that most consumers probably don't realize that Amazon's tablets are powered by Android. That got me wondering if, or how, that perception or misperception may have affected the adoption and sales of Fire tablets over the years.

"I don't know if consumers realize the difference between Google's Android and Amazon's, and even if they do, I doubt they care," says research manager of IDC, Jitesh Ubrani.

Conversely, Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponentialk, tells Android Central he thinks consumers "tend to assume that Fire Tablets run Android," but that this can also lead to a bit of a disconnect since Fire OS doesn't include Google apps or services out of the box (though there are ways to sideload them relatively easily).

Greengart says that Fire Tablet owners can get a bit "flummoxed when they discover that there are some apps that can't be found in the Amazon Store on the device. However, counter-intuitively, the fact that Fire Tablets run Amazon's Fire OS and Silk browser are key reasons for its success."

Indeed, despite the lack of the Play Store and Google Apps, Ubrani says, "Amazon's app store and services have become extremely robust over the years, leading to very few consumers missing out on key experiences."

Experts agree Amazon's Fire tablets have a lot of mind share in markets like the U.S.

According to Ubrani, part of the problem with the Android tablet ecosystem is that there hasn't been a consistent challenger to Apple either in terms of mind share or market share.

"Outside of Apple, very few brands have come to be known as a 'standard' or 'defacto' option, but I'd point to Samsung on a global basis, Amazon in the U.S., and Lenovo in other parts of the world," he says.

Greengart adds that Amazon isn't exactly forthcoming with Fire Tablet sales numbers. However, "consumer surveys show that the Fire is behind only Apple and Samsung in the U.S."

IDC's internal research seems to bear this out as well. Data shared with AC by Ubrani indicates that Amazon is right in the mix behind the two industry titans, along with Lenovo, Huawei, and "others."

Amazon Fire Hd 10 Tablet 2021 Lifestyle

Source: Amazon (Image credit: Source: Amazon)

So if Fire Tablets are missing out on Google apps and services, just what do consumers see in Amazon's "Android" tablets? According to Ubrani, "most consumers see Amazon as the value pick" in the tablet space.

Greengart agrees. He says, "consumers are attracted to the Fire Tablets in part because they are so inexpensive, and Amazon is willing to sell the devices at or near cost because it knows it will make money via its app store, services, and ecosystem engagement."

As with nearly all of Amazon's devices, the Fire Tablet lineup promises durability, user-friendly functionality, and, most importantly, crazy low prices. Amazon grabbed the low-end of the tablet market nearly a decade ago with this strategy, and it hasn't looked back since.

Amazon captured the family devices market

Amazon Fire Hd 10 Kids Protablet Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

The other thing Amazon figured out early on was that parents want to hand their tablets over to kids to entertain them, educate them, or merely placate them. In fact, it created a parallel lineup of Kids Fire Tablets that were more durable, came in fun colors, and featured kid-friendly content and parental controls in the form of Amazon Kids+ (formerly Amazon FreeTime). For all intents and purposes, it's essentially cornered the family tablet market.

"Amazon's tablets ... are extremely family-friendly," Greengart says. "Amazon allows multiple users (Apple doesn't), Amazon provides extensive parental controls, and there are kids versions of the tablet that come with a bumper case, optimized user interface, no-questions-asked warranty, and age-appropriate content."

Amazon Fire Hd 10 Productivity Bundle Side Ports

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Admittedly Fire Tablets aren't considered very good for getting things done, though they are getting better at that, but that's not why most people buy them (or why they buy tablets in general). No, most people buy tablets to consume content on, whether binging Netflix or playing hours of Candy Crush and for these tasks, Fire Tablets are just perfect. After all, why spend more on this functionality if you don't have to?

Android 12L could be a sea change for tablets

Galaxy Z Fold 3 Android 12l

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

But what if you do want to be productive on your tablet? That's been one of the biggest knocks against this segment of Android devices since day one, and it stems mainly from a lack of developer support on the part of Google, resulting in an ambivalence on the part of developers to create apps that can perform well on the platform at this size and form factor. Heck, even the best Chromebooks with detachable screens and tablet capabilities have gained ground in this regard in recent years. However, that all may be about to change soon with the recent announcement of Android 12L.

This new and long overdue variant of Android is being built with larger (hence the "L" in Android 12L) form factors like foldables and tablets in mind. It will allow the system to better scale apps and UI elements to better utilize the screen size.

It also promises improvements to the way Android devices handle notifications and multitasks on these larger displays. And while most people see AndroidL as a response to the rapidly improving foldable phone space and the popularity of devices like the Galaxy Z Fold 3, it could also make all the difference in the world to the experience of using Android tablets.

Obsidian App Galaxy Z Fold 3 On Desk Alt

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

If other Android tablet manufacturers like Samsung and Lenovo can take advantage of the changes coming in Android 12L, Amazon shouldn't fear for its position at the low end. However, its recent foray into productivity devices like the Fire HD 10 Productivity Bundle with Microsoft 365 may require retooling to stay competitive with Android 12L optimized tablets, Chromebooks, iPads, and Windows devices.

"Amazon certainly has the potential to take the lead in the low-cost productivity space, but that space itself is quite small, as buyers who are serious about productivity tend to spend a bit more to get a better keyboard/mouse experience and typically a more robust OS as well," Ubrani says. "That said, if Amazon were to beef up its software/services and specifically target schools, they could potentially displace Chromebooks, but this requires heavy investment and a fair bit of time."

Amazon Fire Hd 10 2021 Productivity Front 2

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android CentralAmazon Fire HD 10 Productivity Bundle (Image credit: Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Greengart doesn't think there's much room for Amazon to play in the productivity space, at least not yet.

"I have been testing the Fire HD 10 Productivity Bundle, and while Microsoft's Office suite and Zoom will run, it does not provide a good experience compared to Chromebooks, iPads, or Windows devices," he says.

With Amazon Fire devices in firm control of the value tablet space and Android 12L on the horizon to rescue more premium tablets, 2022 might just be the start of an Android tablet renaissance. Here's hoping!

If you're considering getting a new Android tablet as a gift for yourself or a loved one this upcoming holiday season, just know that there are going to be a lot of great deals coming down the pike. We'll be tracking all of the best Black Friday Android tablet deals, so be sure to bookmark this page and check back regularly to save money on your holiday purchases.

Jeramy Johnson
Editor-in-chief

Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.

46 Comments
  • You actually think 12L will help Android tablets catch on somehow?! Not likely imo. Hopefully it helps foldables function better natively, but premium Android tablets won't catch on cause iPad. It dominates and making Android tablets premium means competing directly with iPad which is a losing notion. And competing with Amazon on the low end is also not going to be a win either. Good cheap tablet = Amazon or some no name nonsense. Kudos to Google for not giving up since that is what they have done for the most part
  • There is a big world outside the US of A & Android tablets sell well and always have done. This year has seen a boom in Android tablets with new one's coming out from Motorola, Nokia, Real Me, Huawei & best of all Xiaomi. As well as all those Samsung tablets are big sellers as are Lenovo one's. The Xiaomi Mi Pad 5 is the best Android tablet released in terms of bang for your money - it sold out in about an hour on Xiaomi's UK online store.
  • Amazing. Every word of what you just said is wrong.
  • "There is a big world outside of the usa." With a population of around 334 million, the USA makes up less than 0.05% of the global population. At around 9.4 million square kilometers, the USA makes up around 6.1% of total land mass of the planet. The remaining statements are also fully verifiable via a quick Google search...
  • I agree. I liked the Mi Pad 4 Plus so much, that I purchased two more (single-person household!) - once prices had come down from premium to normal. They roughly compare to my iPad Air 2. I also have rwo Huawei M6. They compare to my older 10.5" iPad Pro, but unfortunately are hampered by a trade war that is foreign to me (in Europe).
  • No they don't. I've been around that big world you speak of, everyone is using phones. Not tablets. iPads sell in rich markets, Android tablets barely sell in any market.
  • You're right in saying many people use their larger phones over tablets but you're wrong to say Android (including Fire) tablets don't sell. The huge output of Android tablets in 2021 is a clear sign of demand.
  • He didn't say they don't sell, they barely sell.
    Fire tablets sell well because of their price.
    Samsung is the best hands down, but at a bigger price.
    iPads are the king of tablets.
  • Agreed. People are assuming Android 12L is even abut tablets. I don't believe it is, it's about foldables.
  • The usual denial of the BIGGEST Android manufacturer, at the "Android" Central.
    It's ******* pathetic at best. I know, it's owners pushing you spineless writers to paint a picture of Apple owning everything, but for the love of god. ******* quit your "job" in protest, or ******* grow a spine and say no.
  • I know you're a big Samsung Stan, but do you actually think there tablet sales come close to Amazon's?
  • Yes, they absolutely do. Here in the UK and in Europe Samsung sell a tonne of tablets and for good reason. You get the freedom of Android, a well optimised tablet UI, great speakers - better than iPads even on the budget A7 tablet, memory card slots so you can stuff your tablet with movies to watch on the go & of course you don't get those big, ugly thick iPad bezels with a screen ratio that's appalling for movies. I'd take any Samsung or Fire tablet over a restrictive iPad
  • Who mentioned the iPad? Also, I'm British lol.
  • I'll take big ugly bezels and security updates
    any day over cheap chinese tablets with no security updates....
  • Fire/Samsung/Nokia all deliver at least 3 years of updates. Xiaomi has also joined the pledge of at least 3 years of updates. Also, Android has Google Play services & Play protect which keeps all your apps updated
  • You just love embarrassing yourself don’t you
  • https://images.app.goo.gl/5fHZGMXbKWYivXGGA Samsung Shipped over double the amount of tablets than amazon in q1 2021
  • You may like your android tablets, and if so good for you. There is no way that anyone could state with any degree of honesty that anyone other than Amazon is competing in any meaningful sense with iPad os. It's not the writer's fault, and you may find the internet a more enjoyable experience if you don't behave like an ass.
  • Outside of America there are a tonne of popular tablets from lot's of brands. There's been more Android tablets released this year than at any time in the last 5 years or so.
  • Amazing. Every word of what you just said is wrong.
  • And yet if you read the post by anscarlett above it shows that combined Android tablets outsell iPads by a long way. Go educate yourself kid and let the grown up's talk
  • And no one buys them. Is that America the country or America the continent?
  • See the graph above by anscarlett which shows that combined Android tablets outsell iPads and by quite a bit. In the States the tablet market like the phone market has many limitations and restrictions and is way behind much of the world. You get ripped off by the carrier's for phone contracts and tie you in to buying super expensive handsets. In the UK/Europe you can buy a great Xiaomi phone for around £150 that does everything 99% of people could need and you can get a pay monthly contract with unlimited calls, texts and a decent data package for £10 The phone and tablet market in the States is pretty much different from every other country and you definitely ain't out in front in fact you're totally being ripped off.
  • For all y'all Americans, Android 12L is roughly equivalent to Android 3.17 gallons.
  • Lol very funny.
  • So I have owned an Amazon Fire 10 HD for over 5 years. It replaced my Lenovo, which I loved but broke after 2 years. I bought a Fire because it was cheap. Not quality cheap, but cost cheap. And yes it has some quirks and annoying properties, but overall it is pretty good. And one of the first things I did was install Google Play Store. So is it a productivity device ? No, it was not designed as one. Is it a good entry level tablet ? Absolutely, that is the target. Would I spend $500+ to buy a Samsung tablet to go with my Samsung phone, No. But I would buy a new Amazon Fire 10 on Black Friday for probably $100. Absolutely.
  • This article is totally America centric. There have been move Android tablets released this year than at any time since tablets first burst on the scene and were laughably hailed as laptop replacements. The Xiaomi Mi Pad 5 has sold out in literally hours here in the UK & Europe as well as India and Asia. It's a premium tablet that is way better value for money than the iPad. It costs the same as the bog standard iPad but offers way more storage, looks gorgeous unlike the ugly iPad with those awful thick bezels and has a beautiful screen. The base iPad only gives you 64gb storage, looks outdated as hell, doesn't even have a laminated screen, no stereo speakers and a screen aspect ratio that is appalling for watching movies and video unless you like big ugly black borders to go alongside those big ugly thick bezels. America might be obsessed with Apple and it's awful & restrictive operating system but thankfully the rest of the world isn't.
  • Agreed. Xiaomi is going for Apple big time outside of the USA, & the rotten old fruit is in for a beating: Something long overdue...
  • That’s not even remotely true. And I see you had to create a second account just to have someone agree with you.
  • You’re so pathetically uninformed. You just keep embarrassing yourself. The iPad dominates every market it is in. Do some basic research.
  • Absolutely wrong. You're very good at being totally and utterly wrong. You've certainly got a talent.
  • For me I notice I am grabbing a tablet a lot less since my Z Fold 3 showed up this week. I am excited to see what 12L will do to add benefits to the Fold line up. I have a 2020 iPad that I will continue to use as my GPS in the car but for daily tasks I see myself using my phone over any tablet.
  • I like Amazon's tablets. But they keep the cost low by using SOCs that are several years old on current devices and keep the ram amount relatively low. They could easily bump up both specs and still keep the cost low, but they just won't do that.
  • I'd say their Android version and SOC generally matches up.
  • Amazon tablets are brilliant and work exceedingly well for everything most people do with a tablet. We have an iPad for our son and the sound on my HD8+ and HD 10 are superior for watching content. The Alexa integration for those that enjoy its capabilities is unmatched. In addition if you go with the Amazon branded cases the help amplify the sound. It takes no more than 4 simply sequential downloads to have the GPS and all apps. The Fire OS versions may be behind Android versions but I have always found them to be stable and are supported for quite sometime. I had a 2016 HD8 that was still receiving updates in 2020 when I upgraded to the Fire HD8+. I was able to trade in my older HD8 for credit and get 20% off the new HD8+ that was on sale 89.99 at the time. It ended up costing me @ 48 dollars to upgrade. That's also a bit of genius for Amazon in keeping users upgrading their tablets.
  • I agree that Fire tablets offer excellent value especially if you sideload the Play Store which is super easy. Tablets are media consumption devices and they are never going to replace a laptop for demanding tasks. For media the fire tablet is better than any iPad be ause of the screen aspect ratio and having a micro SD card slot so you can stuff it with movies
  • Amazon tablets have always been terrible, as soon as you're no longer a kid. Really overrated devices. For adults something like the Lenovo Duet is more suitable.
  • I've owned two Amazon Fire tablets, and both of them got unusably slow after just a couple of years. Slow as in the keyboard takes 10+ seconds to appear, and each letter at least 1-2 seconds to type. I don't know what Amazon is doing to their tablets, but even at the low price point, it's made me write them off completely. Maybe they're better now, but honestly, after being burned twice, I will never know... Been working on a home automation system, so I bought a 10" Samsung A7 tablet as a touch controller, but it definitely seems like a low cost alternative to Amazon's tablets without the... suck.
  • Fire Toolbox V24.0 from XDA-Developers.
  • I've had a Fire HD8+ for past three years, after struggling to keep my 2012 Nexus 7 going while the battery was dying and the apps kept getting slower. I loved the form factor of 7" for using on airplane flights to read books and watch video without too much space in that cramped seating area. While the Fire tablet is useful for those tasks, I miss the productivity of my customized Nexus7 that I can't replicate with Amazon's OS.
    But Google has burned me too many times and it may be hard to trust 12L to have any more staying power than everything else they've abandoned.
  • Oh, you so missed on this story. As a former Amazon Fire 10 user with the Google Play Store installed along with all of the Microsoft apps that I needed, I was a happy camper. It was inexpensive too. Problem was, it was slower than molasses in January. I finally wised up and went for the Microsoft Surface Go2 tablet. Since I already had a M365 account, no worries there. As for apps o problem there either with this thing called Web Apps! So While you may not here much about the Microsoft Surface tablets other than on the NFL shows, at least have the decency to be fair on your web site. Better yet try it! You may be surprised too.
  • From what I have seen I think Tablets still really sell I cannot imagine Samsung pumping money into these if they are not selling. I still find it rather odd how google just gave up on them. I hope they do come back I use mine daily I think they are really great. Problem is they will never sell as well as phones as people will not update them every couple years.
  • Of course the fact so many manufacturers continue to make Android tablets obviously indicates they sell well as you say. Google aren't very good at marketing any of their products even their pixel phones don't sell anywhere near as well as phones from rivals. I had Nexus phones and tablets and they all got killed by bugs and glitches from Google's software updates. My Nexus 4 had a bug that saw the battery die within about 4 hours and they took months to release an update to fix it. My Nexus 7 model 1 was brilliant when I bought it but 24 months later it was almost unusable so slow it had become. Google devices ain't all that and just because they don't make Android tablets it doesn't mean Android tablets are not worth buying.
  • "The fact that Fire Tablets run Amazon's Fire OS and Silk browser are key reasons for its success" Hilarious. Best joke I've heard this year. While yeah fire tablets are popular (at least in the U.S.) as far as android tablets go, I've never seen a single person that didn't complain about the Amazon app store and silk browser. People aren't buying these because they're good tablets. They're buying them because they're $200 at the very most and they're the most ok cheap tablet available.
  • I would hard disagree--it's Apple, Samsung, THEN amazon in a distant third... then everyone else.
  • Why would anybody waste good money on a hampered Android tablet when they can buy any iPad from the last 4 years, install the plethora of Google apps and services they require and still have access to that devices' incredible app library?