The startup Cyanogen is trying "to take Android away from Google" by making its own distribution of the open source mobile operating system. In pursuit of that goal, on Thursday Cyanogen announced a strategic partnership to offer apps from Microsoft, one of the companies arguing that Android is anti-competitive.
Through the partnership, Cyanogen plans to integrate and distribute several of Microsoft's consumer apps and services, including Bing services, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, and Skype. These apps could suffice as replacements for Google's mobile apps and may encourage people to install Cyanogen's version of Android. However, those using CyanogenMod can install Google's mobile apps if they choose to do so.
The view that Google has been anti-competitive with the Android OS is being considered by the European Commission, which on Wednesday announced an investigation into the question. One of the issues the EC will evaluate is whether Google has illegally hindered the development of Android variants by preventing hardware-makers from installing its apps or services on alternative (forked) versions of Android.
Cyanogen describes itself as "a company that is evolving the Android platform to create a more open, level playing field for third-party developed apps and services."
Google's Android, the version used by most consumers, consists of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and Google Mobile Services (GMS), a set of popular Google applications, including Chrome, Gmail, and Maps. GMS apps are available under a separate license, and that presents problems for some of Google's competitors.
Cyanogen contributes to and maintains CyanogenMod, an open source mobile operating system based on AOSP, with extra firmware and modifications. It also offers a commercial version for hardware-makers. The company claims 50 million people run its software on their phones.
Last year, Google said over a billion people use Android every month. And it says over a million people activate new Android devices every day.
However, Google's control of Android is beginning to look shaky. In Q4 2014, according to ABI Research, 206 million smartphones shipped with Google's Android, and 85 million smartphones shipped with forked versions of ASOP.
Microsoft EVP Peggy Johnson in a statement offered assurance that her company will continue to deliver all its mobile apps on Windows as well.
However, only a small percentage of mobile phones ship with the Windows Phone operating system -- 2.8% during Q4 2014, according to IDC. Phones running Android -- Google-flavored or otherwise -- accounted for 76.6% of unit sales during the same period.
If Microsoft can fortify its presence on a version of Android without Google, Microsoft would ensure it has a fallback strategy for mobile devices in case Windows Phone fails to gain marketshare. But by doing so, Microsoft also lends credence to Google's claim that Android enhances competition and choice.
Efforts to hobble Android through patent licensing fees and intellectual property litigation have thus far come to naught. Android remains the world's most popular mobile operating system. But Android's apparent immortality could come back to haunt Google if Cyanogen can make its form of Android appealing to the masses and can attract other major mobile players like Facebook. In China, where some of Google's services face roadblocks, Xiaomi has made its forked version of Android hugely popular.
In March, Cyanogen closed an $80 million funding round that included Twitter Ventures, Qualcomm Incorporated, Telefónica Ventures, Smartfren Telecom, Index Ventures, Access Industries, Rupert Murdoch, Vivi Nevo, several undisclosed firms, and previous investors Benchmark, Andreessen Horowitz, Redpoint Ventures, and Tencent Holdings Ltd. In January, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources, that Microsoft planned to invest in Cyanogen.
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