According to sources familiar with the matter, Microsoft has invested in Cyanogen, Inc., making a small contribution in the $70 million of the $100 million that the startup claims to have been able to raise. The startup has so far only accounted for the $30 million of the total. More than just a magnanimous donation, however, this move is seen to be Redmond’s play to wrest control of Android away from Google, a sentiment that it shares with Cyanogen. Of course, this rumor is likely to raise many mixed emotions over the future of the platform and Microsoft’s involvement.
CyangoenMod is, by far, the most popular Android ROM in existence, but it is no secret that it has little love for Google’s ways. In a recent interview, Cyanogen, Inc. CEO Kirt McMaster didn’t mince words when he said that “We’re going to take Android away from Google”. As they say, “them fighting words.” CyanogenMod already takes its base from the Android Open Source Project or AOSP, the “non-Google” part of Android that is available to the public. It adds its own features and services on top, some of them matching what Google offers. But how far can Cyanogen really go without, or even against, Google?
Cyanogen wants to build its own OS, Android-based most likely, but without any dependence on Google. It will be that OS that it will be pushing to OEM partners, like Micromax. But it will take more than just the core OS to make a mobile platform a commercially viable enterprise. You will need an entire ecosystem of services and apps. There are some that do already exist outside of Google’s control, outside of Google Play Store, but it wouldn’t be an understatement to consider them small. Then there’s the question of fragmentation, long pointed out to be Android’s Achilles heel in the crusade against the iPhone. Android is just slowly catching up in unifying its platform landscape. Should Cyanogen’s thrust be successful, there will be another major Android variant that developers might have to mind, unless the two branches can agree on a common trunk. That might be easy for simple apps, but when you insert APIs and services into the equation, things get a bit murky.
Cyanogen has basis for its battle cry, and it is definitely not the only one. Although technically an Open Handset Alliance (OHA) venture, Google practically has a stranglehold on Android’s development. OEMs may sometimes have the final say in what goes inside their devices, but even there Google is starting to put its foot down. Google has also been seen to replace core Android features and apps with its own proprietary bits. That may be good for unification, but not exactly for the openness that Android has been known for. Still, relatively speaking, Android is exponentially a more open platform than, say, iOS, but for how long, no one knows. That’s the dark future that Cyanogen and its supports are fighting against.
Things get more complicated, however, with Microsoft joining the fray. The tech giant has a rather complicated relationship with Android. For one, it has its own mobile platform which will see a renewed experience with Windows 10 later this year. At the same time, it actually also profits from Android through licensing fees. This investment leaves Microsoft with a minority stake in Cyanogen. A small one, but still a stake. Veterans in the industry might recall Redmond’s infamous “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish” strategy of the past and might shudder at what the future may hold.