Amazon strikes deal with Google for partners to make Fire TVs based on Android

Mike Wheatley

Google and Amazon recently struck a deal that enables TV makers to launch Fire TVs based on a fork of the Android operating system. The deal resulted in the launch of the first Fire TVs from brands including Hisense, TCL and Xiaomi, and we’ll likely see many more TV brands embracing Amazon’s OS in future.


Google has fought hard to protect Android TV’s market share, and as part of that effort it notable prohibits its hardware partners from selling TVs based on Android forks. Of course, that meant it was impossible for any TV maker that sells Android TVs to also sell Fire TVs, as the Fire OS is really just a tweaked version of the open-source Android platform.

However, Protocol reported last week that Amazon recently came to an agreement with Google that has paved the way for TV makers to use the Fire TV operating system, as well as Android TV.

"The unveiling of the two TV models is the direct result of a deal Google and Amazon struck in recent months, Protocol has learned from a source close to one of the parties involved in the agreement," Protocol stated, referencing last week’s launch of TCL’s first 4K QLED Fire TVs in Europe.

The deal apparently came against the backdrop of increased scrutiny over Google’s “anti-competitive practices”. Last week, the company was fined $161.9 million by India’s watchdog - a decision that was based partly on a complaint from Amazon.

In its statement to the Competition Commission of India, Amazon said that the breadth of Google’s anti-fragmentation obligations meant that it faced “significant difficulties” in finding OEM partners to manufacture smart TVs running Fire OS. “The breadth of the AFA restrictions as they apply to Android licensees is such that OEMs have concerns that manufacturing smart TVs running Fire OS will put their GMS license for other businesses (e.g., smartphone business) at risk, even if the OEMs do not manufacture and supply Android smart TVs,” Amazon said.

Amazon explained that it has explored working with multiple OEMs with a view to them manufacturing and distributing Fire OS smart TVs. “In these discussions with OEMs, at least seven OEMs have indicated that their ability to enter into a manufacturing relationship of this kind with Amazon is either blocked entirely or significantly limited (e.g., in terms of geographic scope) by their contractual commitments to Google and the concern that Google would retaliate against another of the OEM’s businesses that produce Android devices,” the company said.

Amazon was referring to Google’s Android Compatibility Commitment, which prevents its hardware partners from making devices based on forked versions of Android. If a partner breaks this agreement, they risk losing access to Google’s official Android operating system for both TVs and mobile devices. While Google insists its ACC is designed to prevent fragmentation of the ecosystem, the penalties are clearly a deal-breaker for OEMs looking to work with other smart TV platforms.

The Competition Commission of India's report shows that Amazon highlighted a number of firms that raised concerns about retaliation from Google.

“For example, such discussions occurred with Skyworth, TPV (with respect to the Philips brand), UMC (with respect to the Sharp brand), Foxconn (with respect to the Sharp brand), and Panasonic,” Amazon’s statement read. “Panasonic also shared concerns about possible retaliation by Google against its automotive and aviation businesses if it proceeded with FTVE installation on smart TVs."

While Google declined to comment on the Competition Commission of India's ruling, Amazon said the findings “speak for themselves”.

The exact details of Google’s agreement with Amazon are unclear, but Protocol said it will enable Amazon to work with essentially any consumer electronics brand it wants, in order to expand the number of smart TVs that run Fire TV OS.

That said, it’s unlikely that the deal will help Google to get around the overarching concerns over its business practices and Android licensing terms. Despite the deal, Google’s public statements indicate that it has no intention of reversing its anti-fragmentation policy in general. In other words, TV makers are still banned from adopting other forked versions of Android so long as they continue making Google-licensed Android TVs and smartphones.