Emails between Amazon executives and unnamed smartphone manufacturers suggest Google’s tight control over Android may have contributed to the failure of Amazon’s phone efforts. Amazon released the Fire Phone, its one and only smartphone, in 2014; but it had been trying to get the project off the ground for several years, only to be thwarted by skittish phone makers.
In communications published by The Telegraph, it’s indicated companies did not want to get involved with a project that did not have Google’s consent. The wording of the emails ties into the reasons Google was fined $5.1 billion by the European Commission last year for breaking antitrust rules.
An internal Amazon email from January 2013 said while an unnamed manufacturer was interested in working with Amazon, it would have to get Google’s consent due to an anti-fragmentation agreement, which blocked it from working on so-called “forked” versions of Android. Amazon’s Fire Phone used Fire OS, Amazon’s own independent operating system based on Android, and can be considered a “forked” version.
Later in 2013, another email revealed Google, “has its own plan to control the manufacturers for developing Android products,” and that in general, “Google doesn’t want a manufacturer to modify Android to fit into different platforms.” Amazon’s attempts to license Fire OS at the time were ultimately unsuccessful, and it was forced to launch the Fire Phone itself the year after.
Google fined, and reprimanded
Google has already found itself in trouble over its actions. In 2018, the European Commission stated Google made manufacturers agree not to develop or sell devices with a forked version of Android installed. It wrote:
“The Commission has found evidence that Google’s conduct prevented a number of large manufacturers from developing and selling devices based on Amazon’s Android fork called Fire OS.”
The evidence stated by the commission may have been in the form of emails such as those now revealed. In addition to the massive fine, Google was told it must no longer engage in activity which prevents manufacturers from producing devices based on Android forks. The battle between Google and Amazon even affected streaming Amazon Prime Video content onto Chromecast devices, a situation only recently resolved.
While Google’s control over Android may have made things difficult for Amazon and Fire OS on phones, it was not the only reason the Fire Phone was not a success. In our 2014 review, we said the $650 phone was lagging behind on battery life and processing power, the software was often too slow, and that the phone was too expensive. Since then, Amazon has not returned to making phones, and has instead built a hardware empire around the Alexa voice assistant.