Microsoft is reportedly an investor in Android offshoot Cyanogen Inc., which has been reported to want to “take Android away from Google.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft will be a small part of a larger $70 million Series C funding round set to complete in the next few weeks. The company last raised a $23 million Series B in December, 2013.
At The Information‘s ‘Next Phase of Android’ keynote last week, Cyanogen Inc. CEO Kirt McMaster said that Google has a “tyrannical” hold on Android, allowing only certain OEMs from accessing Google’s important services like Gmail and Maps in exchange for commitments not to alter other features like Google Now, which is increasingly becoming central to the company’s mobile advertising future.
Cyanogen believes that by harnessing the core power of Android’s framework, disconnected from the Google services, it can create an entirely new operating system. “Today, Cyanogen has some dependence on Google. Tomorrow, it will not,” McMaster told the crowd.
Back to Microsoft, this wouldn’t be the first time the company has dabbled in Android. It acquired Nokia’s now-defunct “X” line, which featured a forked version of Android that could run native apps, with Nokia and Microsoft services replacing the core Google ones. It has also ramped up its Android app presence, releasing versions of Office for smartphones and tablets. Today, it released a version of Outlook for Android based on its Acompli acquisition.
Cyanogen’s growth has been met with some controversy, too. The company entered into an exclusive agreement with Micromax, one of the biggest Indian OEMs, to distribute CyanogenMOD on its Yu smartphone lineup, irking its other partner, OnePlus, which thought it also had Indian distribution rights. That was later resolved, with OnePlus opting to build its own version of Android for the Indian market, but it’s unclear if the relationship with the software maker was irrevocably damaged.
Cyanogen is now working with other OEMs to more widely distribute its product. Based out of Seattle, it’s not quite connected to the Silicon Valley space, and still considers itself a small, scrappy startup with over “volunteers” working to bring the custom ROM to handsets new and old, many of which are no longer supported by their own manufacturers.
It’s unclear what Microsoft’s roll will be in the venture, but it likely knows that Windows 10 on smartphones will never be as widely sold as iOS or Android, and is planning accordingly.
[source]Wall Street Journal[/source]