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Newcomer Cyanogen looks to disrupt Android and iOS

Matt Hamblen | July 31, 2015
Several versions of the Android OS for smartphones have appeared on the global stage in recent years. One version, Cyanogen OS, has gathered publicity as well as prominent investors --including Twitter, Qualcomm and Foxconn -- that could give it some staying power.

The Cyanogen OS also is pre-loaded on the Alcatel OneTouch Hero2+, the OnePlus One, the Oppo N1 and will appear later this year on a device from Blu, a Florida-based company that has sold phones widely through Latin America and through WalMart and Best Buy. Blu is expected to strip off Google's suite of mobile apps seen on many Android phones and replace them with features like the Opera browser, Nokia Here for mapping and Spotify for music.

One of the biggest indicators of Cyanogen's stature came in April, when the company announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft. Cyanogen said it will integrate and distribute Microsoft consumer apps and services such as Bing search, Skype, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook and Office into the Cyanogen OS.

Investors pave the way

Cyanogen has secured $117 million in three rounds of funding, with a diverse set of investors that includes mobile chip maker Qualcomm, the social network Twitter, China-based electronics maker Foxconn and Spain-based Telefonica, one of the world's largest mobile network providers. 

Partners announced in March also include media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Access Industries, a U.S. industrial group led by Russian-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.

One investor, Primji Invest, declared at the time that Cyanogen is "well positioned to become the 3d leading mobile OS" behind Android and iOS.

Some history of Cyanogen

Cyanogen Inc. traces its roots to the CyanogenMod, short for Cyanogen Modification, which is also known as CM. Developer Steve Kondik, using the online handle "Cyanogen," first posted information about CM in 2009 and is now the company's chief technology officer. Kirt McMaster, an entrepreneur, met Kondik in 2012 and the two formed Cyanogen Inc. in 2013. (Kondik's reason for choosing cyanogen as his handle isn't clear; the word also refers to a toxic gas sometimes used in the production of fertilizer.)

McMaster, the CEO, is reportedly working to add more manufacturers and carriers to the group of companies supporting Cyanogen. He already has established himself in the class of upstart and outspoken CEOs in the vein of T-Mobile CEO John Legere. "We're putting a bullet through Google's head," McMaster told Forbes in March, even though analysts generally agree that Google isn't all that vulnerable.

Google and Cyanogen didn't comment for this story.

Why Cyanogen matters

Whether Cyanogen thrives in coming years, it is pretty clear that its backers want to attract app developers who feel too controlled by either Apple or Google. Eventually, Cyanogen is expected to run its own app storefront, assuming it grows as investors hope it will.

"Cyanogen is a threat, in a sense, to Google if enough phone makers decide not to be compatible with Google's store and apps," IDC analyst Stofega said in an interview.


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