​Cyanogen looks to Amazon, Microsoft funds to take control of Android

Cyanogen Inc hopes Google's rivals will see value in making CyanogenMod the third operating system that breaks the Android and iOS duopoly.

Cyanogen, the startup behind the popular aftermarket firmware CyanogenMod, is reportedly seeking investors that are willing to bet on it wresting control of Android from Google.

Rumours have been circulating for months that Yahoo, Samsung, Amazon, and Microsoft may be keen on taking a stake in Cyanogen. More recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft was interesting in participating in a $70m funding round that would value Cyanogen at hundreds of millions of dollars, following two rounds last year in which it raised a total of $30m.

Now, a report in Recode has added fuel to the fire, with the publication's sources saying Cyanogen has talked to "a broad range of companies," including both Amazon and Microsoft, as it seeks to establish an Android ecosystem that's not controlled by Google. The latter is seen as the more likely of the pair to invest. However, Recode notes that some companies have backed away from funding Cyanogen for fear of invoking Google's ire.

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Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster has previously expounded on the company's ambitions to "take Android away from Google". The chief exec has also criticised iOS and Android for being "shells" for Google and Apple services and, in Google's case, requiring OEMs to accept Gmail, YouTube, and the Google Play store and other services as a single bundle in order to use the GMS version of Google.

Andreessen Horowitz partner and Cyanogen board member Peter Levine recently made a case for why the world needs an open, third mobile ecosystem. Levine argued that OEMs, end users, and app developers would benefit if that third and open OS broke the iOS and Android "duopoly". Apple already has many mobile competitors: Jolla with Sailfish, Mozilla with Firefox OS, Microsoft with Windows Phone, and Samsung with Tizen.

"An open, leading OS contender, however, would empower the best third party developers - through special APIs and tools that better integrate with the operating system - to do more than what they're currently allowed to in a closed ecosystem (where they have limited, if any, tools and access to communicate with other apps)," Levine wrote on the Andreessen Horowitz blog.

He adds what Cyanogen has going for it is not just its large user base, but the thousands of third-party developers outside the 80-person company that already contribute to the CyanogenMod operating system. Besides that, the company's recent deal with India's largest smartphone maker Micromax shows there is an appetite among OEMs to offer something other than Android, Android One, or Windows Phone.

According to Recode, one option for Cyanogen to make money from its free, open source OS would be to bundle a collection of services from Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft on top of the OS in a similar way to how Google Mobile Services is offered to OEMs.

According to Levine, handset manufacturers could also use CyanogenMod to earn more revenue from software.

"By partnering with a truly open operating system - as opposed to a locked-down ecosystem - device makers begin to capture more value, and share revenue in places they haven't been able to play before: app stores, mobile services, advertising, and other ways to monetize on phones," he notes.

"True, hardware revenue is at a totally different scale than apps. But it's not impossible that one or more of these OEMs could become a meaningful player in some other part of the mobile ecosystem over time. Especially as other factors align in the future."

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