Microsoft To Invest in Cyanogen’s Future OS War?

Microsoft To Invest in Cyanogen’s Future OS War?

Reports indicate that Microsoft is investing in the rogue Android forker Cyanogen. The funding round is said to be upwards of $70 million, and could allow for a cooperation between Cyanogen and the Silicon Valley giant in the ongoing battle of mobile operating systems. This could be a strategic movement in coordination with other investors given Cyanogen’s expression of rebellion against Google’s tightening control over Android, as the custom ROM maker has recently spoken out against the “tyranny” of Google in regards to their own platform.

As of now, no in-depth analysis on the situation have been made, and market researchers and analysts will  soon be jumping on the discussion. But what would be an obvious ideal motive is probably the fact that Cyanogen’s dominance on the alternative ROM market and their experience in software development could help Microsoft chip away at Google’s service monopoly.

The tipping point for both Cyanogen and Microsoft seems to have been Google’s policies to standardize their services across the Android platform. As of 2014, OEMs are required to pre-install Google apps, Google Search and have the Google services functioning by default in all of their handsets – if they want them to have the option to access these services, that is. What this means is that all handsets come with Google’s e-mail, browser, and YouTube applications out of the box and ready for the user, thus diminishing the possible competition of other options. Services like the Play Store and Google Search also have to be the default solutions, and this severely weakens alternative app stores or voice assistants.

These last two points are of a very punctual importance to both Cyanogen and Microsoft. Cyanogen has expressed that they want to have their own application store in the next 18 months. This is an area where Google’s control is exemplary, as competitors like the Amazon App Store don’t see anywhere near the same number of customers – primarily due to the fact that the Play Store comes pre-installed. As for Microsoft, the predominance of Google services hurts their own. The Google Account requirement that unifies their services directly competes with their own alternative, and Microsoft’s Search Engine has been trying to chip away at Google’s ever since its inception without much success. This last service in particular has bled Microsoft out of 5.5 billion dollars in just a few years.

Cyanogen’s alliance with Microsoft is another indication of Cyanogen’s plans of expansion that had begun with their hardware affiliations with OnePlus. Since then, they also have forged tight relationships with Micromax in India and are now releasing the Yureka line of phones. However, Cyanogen has been linked to a shady move that cost OnePlus its selling rights in India for a short while, as they had signed an exclusivity deal with Micromax yet hadn’t informed OnePlus of the process. We covered the court documents extensively in this report and have discussed the situation back and forth, and it is clear that this is a stain on Cyanogen’s reputation, if not an indication of poor business practices.

To further justify this industry relationship, it could be said that Cyanogen’s sense of rebellion against Google could have notified Microsoft of their personal agenda and game plan against them. In an event by The Information on the future of Android, Cyanogen’s CEO Kirt McMaster pungently declared Cyanogen plans on breaking free of Google’s – and perhaps even Android’s – shackles. He stated that “[today] Cyanogen has some dependence on Google [but] tomorrow it will not”. Then he continued discussing Google’s hold over the OS, and how Cyanogen provides an open alternative. Cyanogen believes that Google’s measures hurt the individual developer and the smaller companies, and he commented that these will split from Google in the future, saying that “there will be services that are doing the same old bulls*** with Android, and then there will be something different [and] that is where we’re going here”. This seems to suggest that they might be looking to expand outside of the OS if needed.
With Microsoft’s OS development experience and capital such an alliance – if concreted – could be able to produce a worthy competitor. Cyanogen has been known to boast about their OS and their development process, even going as far as saying that Samsung “couldn’t build a good OS if they tried”. This sparked a lot of controversy seeing as Cyanogen hasn’t truly built an OS, but rather modified one, even if they did use a combination of community and homegrown additions and modifications. Such a statement, along with all of the recent developments, show that Cyanogen is somewhat reluctant to admit that their success is strongly founded on the complexity and openness of the OS, and the community, that they base their ROMs on, as their achievements are not just from their own work, but Google’s too. With Cyanogen’s recent angst against the big names in the industry, it could just be that they have a game plan of their own to try and win out the OS war that they are not significant participants of just yet.

We don’t know exactly what a relationship between Cyanogen and Microsoft could bring. Given Windows Phone’s pitiful global market share, and with mobile devices becoming the primary platform for internet services, it is clear that a service largely reliant on these would try to increase their hold on the mobile ecosystem. And with Google’s policies of default Google Apps and services, Android’s 80% market share sees the Mountain View company getting into many of the whole world’s pockets. This direct threat to Microsoft’s revenue would undoubtedly mobilize them, and with Cyanogen’s underground yet impressive user base, they could flank Google from the inside out, by subverting a big part of Android away from their market hold.

Can Cyanogen become a worthy rival of Google’s Android? Will Microsoft see its services trump Google’s in the near future? That has to be seen, but considering that there’s many competitors rising and falling, history isn’t stacked in their favor. Even Samsung’s own Tizen (a company with much more capital, experience and engineers than Cyanogen) hasn’t seen a very strong beginning with its recent release in India. But disregarding all politics, Cyanogen’s ROMs are a staple in custom ROM development and XDA’s history. Their vision of Android has been a preferred alternative for millions of people, and with such a loyal fan base for a headstart, the future of the OS war remains unpredictable.

What do you think will happen between Microsoft, Cyanogen and Google? Leave us your opinion in the comments down below!

About author

Mario Tomás Serrafero
Mario Tomás Serrafero

Mario developed his love for technology in Argentina, where a flagship smartphone costs a few months of salary. Forced to maximize whatever device he could get, he came to know and love XDA. Quantifying smartphone metrics and creating benchmarks are his favorite hobbies. Mario holds a Bachelor's in Mathematics and currently spends most of his time classifying cat and dog pictures as a Data Science graduate student.