Cyanogen Inc produces a custom version of Android for smartphones including the OnePlus One and Micromax Yu line of devices.
Right now that means users get some special features and more control over settings than they’d get if they were running a phone running the stock version of Android that runs on phones like the Google Nexus 5 or Nexus 6. But it’s still largely tied to Google’s apps and services.
In the next few years, though, Cyanogen wants to significantly reduce its reliance on Google.
Speaking at an event run by The Information, Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster said the company wants to take control of Android away from Google.
Cyanogen plans to make a custom version of Android that gives developers more support for integrating their apps and services directly into the operating system.
While Google currently provides tools that let developers create all sorts of third-party apps, there are some ways that Google’s own apps are first-class citizens while other apps are not. For instance, Google Now and Google Search are tightly integrated into Android so they can interact with other apps and the core operating system. Phone makers, wireless carriers, or app developers that want that kind of access have to fork Android to get it… which is an approach that Amazon has taken with its Fire tablets and Fire Phone.
Forking Android in that way, though, violates Google’s policies and it means that device makers cannot use Google Mobile Services including the Google Play Store and apps such as Gmail, YouTube, and Maps.
So as part of its plan to open up Android to give device makers and app developers more control, Cyanogen plans to launch its own app store.
That approach has had mixed results for other developers. Amazon’s Fire tablet line of devices sell pretty well, but the Fire Phone has been something of a flop. Still, the Amazon Appstore is probably the second-largest marketplace for Android apps… at least in the US.
Barnes & Noble tried selling Android-based tablets with its own user interface and app store for a few years, but eventually started loading Google Play on those devices before discontinuing them and just selling Samsung tablets with the B&N NOOK name on them instead.
In China, on the other hand, many phones and tablets sell without access to the Google Play Store. In that country, third-party app stores are the norm, and users don’t generally expect access to Google Mobile Services.
In other words, Cyanogen’s plans to wrest control over Android away from Google may be ambitious for a startup formed by makers of community-based custom ROMs that are based on source code from Google. But it’s not necessarily impossible. While it’s hard to imagine Cyanogen software becoming the norm on phones sold in the US anytime soon, there are certainly regions where the software could do well… and the company’s business plan could endear it to hardware and software makers that are upset with how much control Google exerts over the operating system that runs on the majority of smartphones sold in the world.
Samsung, for example, is investing heavily in the Tizen operating system as an alternative to Android so that the company has a platform it has more control over. But the first Tizen smartphone launched in India this month, and early reports suggest it hasn’t been all that well received, at least partly because there aren’t that many apps designed for the platform. A forked version of Android like the one Cyanogen appears to be working on would be able to run most Android apps… assuming the company can convince developers to submit their existing apps to its new app store.