Android Headliner: Are Cyanogen Putting A Bullet Through Their Own Head?


Normally, one would try to avoid a headline like this. It draws too many conclusions, angers too many readers and frustrates a number of others. However, under the circumstances, not only does the headline seem appropriate, but it also does offer somewhat of a valid argument. Are Cyanogen's Kirt McMaster's comments damaging Cyanogen? There is no doubt that from a commercial viewpoint, Cyanogen CEO, McMaster has helped to build Cyanogen. Note, that is Cyanogen, not CyanogenMod. McMaster has had very little to do with the actual technical operating system, which was the brainchild of Steve Kondik, who now operates as CTO of Cyanogen. However, what McMaster has done, is bring the company to the limelight, pushing forward their vision of a more open android and helped to establish and secure $80 million in their latest round of funding.

That's the good bits. However, en route to that securing, McMaster has had no issue and has held back no punches when it comes to speaking his mind. In fact, one would argue that there is a clear intention behind his now-becoming-common one-liners and bite-sized comments like "We're putting a bullet through Google's head." Comments like these, make for instant headlines and offer both news outlets and Cyanogen quick clicks. But do they offer anything more? Anything substantial? Do they actually help Cyanogen's cause? In reality, probably not. On the one hand, they do generate instant exposure, putting Cyanogen back in the headlines again, keeping the PR momentum going. Which is especially important when you are wrapping up a funding round. In short, it is great for immediate business. Never forget that any news is good news, any PR is good PR and McMaster's comments are most definitely good for PR.


However, the issue for Cyanogen, is that comments like this have very little value to those they are aimed towards. If you were to walk into your local grocery store, school, church or bar and ask random people "Have you heard of Cyanogen?" How many people do you think would say "yes"? Probably not as many as would say "no". Therefore, McMaster's approach can only really be aimed at their investors (highlighting the pull they have with news agencies) and those in the know, tech readers, users and providers. The problem here, is those who do know of Cyanogen, also know Cyanogen cannot function without Google…in particular android. This is where it should be noted McMaster was saying a 'bullet through Google's head', not through android's head. As they would have nothing if it was not for android, ergo, nothing without Google. They may be trying to severe Google's body (android) from Google's head (Google), but that is all they will be achieving. If they can achieve it at all. When Google rolls out the next version of Android, you can be sure that Cyanogen (like everyone else), will be first in line to grab the code, see what they can tweak, what other products they can insert and repackage.

In fact, this leads to the next point. From an open source, android user's point of view, it is not clear that replacing Google Apps with Microsoft ones constitute an 'opening' or 'freeing' of android. In fact, it is only exchanging one master for another. In a recent interview with Forbes, McMaster explained their/his vision of an open android as "I should be able to talk to the phone and say 'Play that song' and the f…ing song plays with Spotify." But, is it not closer to the truth that we all only use Spotify, due to their Google-like dominance in the music industry. Is it still not dominance by another name? Will the future vision of Cyanogen OS know that I really do not like using Microsoft apps like Outlook and Bing and instead opt to use the GApps, that I have apparently just been freed from? In reality, the system will only do what it is coded to do. Will an OS which guides users towards any specific app (beit a Google or otherwise) represent the choice that an 'open android' suggests.

This argument could go on indefinitely so as to draw some kind of conclusion to the point, there are two main issues with McMaster's vision (or at least vocalizing) of Cyanogen. The first is swapping one dominant market app bundle like GApps for another dominant one, like a commercial gathering of those from Microsoft, Spotify etc is not freeing android. Nor, is it improving android. In fact, it is a surefire way for Cyanogen, to offer those who want to pay for entry to your operating system. Not to mention, the idea of a Google-free android sounds quite like Fire OS. Which has not exactly done that well or achieved that much. Secondly, for a very long time the mantra for the roots of the operating system that Cyanogen is based upon, was 'for the users, by the users'. I'm not sure many android users would want to put a bullet through Google's head.

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John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]

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