One of Android’s greatest strengths is the open source nature of the platform, how we are able to redefine the operating system to suit our individual purposes. Android can and is forked, plus a device such as the HTC One M8 is technically an Android-based handset, whereas the Nexus 6 is an Android handset. However, going forwards there are two very different views about Android within the industry. On the one hand, some see Android as an open platform to allow applications to take advantage of a handset’s abilities better than iOS. And at the opposite corner, people consider Android as being too controlled by Google and as such it needs to be wrestled free in order for it to be pushed into a better shape.
It’s a position that Kirk McMaster, the head or Cyanogen, supports. He said: “Android today and iOS are essentially shells for Google and Apple services. Everybody else exists in these sandboxes with no access to the lower levels of the [operating system] kernel.” Kirt is known for his outspoken opinions including Google’s “tyrannical” control over Android or Samsung’s inability to build a decent mobile operating system. He has now set down his view of Cyanogen’s future, which is devoid of any need for Google. At The Information’s “Next Phase of Android” event this week in San Francisco, he introduced himself with: “I’m the CEO of Cyanogen. We’re attempting to take Android away from Google.” In the detail, Kirt said that Cyanogen wants to provide a version of Android that is open right down to the core, where partners can build tightly integrated services in a way that is not currently possible under Google’s control. The rationale for this? Because under the current system, a startup working on a new technology “get stuck having … to launch a stupid little application that inevitably gets acquired by Google or Apple. These companies can thrive on non-Google Android.” Kirt, essentially, believes that the Google framework of control over Android is too constrictive.
Kirt also gave an example, that of Google Now, which plugs into the core of the system in a way that third party applications are not able to. He goes on to explain that the Aviate launcher, owned by Yahoo!, does not have as much access to core Google services but if it were to partner with Cyanogen, it could. Yahoo! have been rumored to have been interested in buying Cyanogen. Now, Kirt’s statements will rattle Google’s cage but he is not bothered: “We’ve barely scratched the surface in regards to what mobile can be. Today, Cyanogen has some dependence on Google. Tomorrow, it will not. We will not be based on some derivative of Google in three to five years. There will be services that are doing the same old bulls*** with Android, and then there will be something different. That is where we’re going here.”
It’s difficult to envisage Cyanogen replacing the existing suite of Google services; the Google Play Store, Gmail, Maps and similar. Google’s requirements for these applications is a straitjacket that Cyanogen wish to remove. Companies that fork Android are shut out of the Google apps and services and it’s tough for businesses to create their own viable alternative. Amazon has invested considerable time and effort into creating their own infrastructure to support Fire OS, their fork of Android. Kirt said that Cyanogenmod would have their own app store by the middle of 2016, but this is simply one in a large number fo obstacles that the upstart needs to overcome.
It’s clear that Cyanogen has come a long, long way from its early beginnings, which may be traced back to early efforts to root the original consumer Android smartphone, the HTC Dream, back in 2008. The business as ambitious, big plans. What do you make of them? Do you want to see a more open source operating system similar to Android or are you happy with your device using software that is partially controlled by Google? Let us know in the comments below.