Cyanogen are serious about building a non-Google version of Android. How serious? $80 million serious; they are striving to build a far less controlled version of Android, one that isn’t under Google’s wing. This is what the original ideology was behind Android when Google was courting the world’s networks, carrier and manufacturers with the new operating system. One of the key messages was that because Android is open source, if a particular carrier felt threatened by an operating system lock in, they would be able to develop their own operating system based off Android, with their own cloud services, and application store. This is appealing to carriers, especially, who expend much of their energy trying to be more than simply the connection between the products and services that a customer wants to use, and the devices that they want to use. Google’s argument was that the carrier could very much be an integrated part of the ecosystem and be able to add value (and extract revenue) from the customer base. Over the years, we have seen various projects arrive based on Android or using the ecosystem, such as the Kindle Fire OS, which is an Android fork, Xiaomi’s MIUI and some of Samsung’s efforts especially concerning their own app store. However, across the world, Google’s Android has become and is likely to remain the dominant mobile operating system.
Google has changed their approach in the last couple of years. Their original strategy was almost to encourage diversification and fragmentation in the market but for a number of reasons, this has now changed. Before, it was acceptable for a device to launch with an older version of Android and never receive updates but now Google have changed their approach: Android devices that have Google’s core applications and services need to be running a reasonably current version of Android. Essentially, if it’s going to wear their name, it needs to conform to their standards and this means keeping things reasonably up to date. There are good reasons for this, such as customer safety, and of course how trends have changed. When Android was in its infancy, so too was the Android Market (now renamed to the Google Play Store); customers used the Google Search to find mobile websites. These days, customers are more likely to use the Google Search to find an application, which ultimately diverts away from the Google Search portal. Google are first and foremost an information manager and when customers use another way to find information, this reduces the information acquired from them.
And then we consider China, where things are different because all of Google’s services have been banned. Here, non-Google Android is the dominant smartphone operating system. We’ve seen products and services growing up in a vacuum and start to thrive. Whilst this isn’t quite the model that Cyanogen are hoping to emulate, it is close. Xiaomi, the lead Chinese smartphone manufacturer with a portfolio of non-Google Android devices, became the most valuable private company in the world at the end of 2014. The role of the non-Google Android cannot be underestimated; Google certainly considered this to be a very real threat. Cyanogen wants a piece of this market and have raised $80 million in funding to help. Their aim to develop an independent, truly open Android is going to be significant for much of the market, but there is much work to do. Ultimately, smartphone customers typically have a need for a smartphone and are therefore picking a device that best suits these requirements. Google’s embedded services means that a Google Android device is a very tempting prospect; can a Cyanogen Android device be as tempting without some or all of the Google services?