Under Google’s tutelage, Android has grown to become the world’s most popular mobile operating system. If Cyanogen has its way though, Google will lose control of the mobile OS.

According to research firm IDC Corp., 81.5 per cent of all smartphones shipped in 2014 ran Google’s Android OS, up 32 per cent year over year. And one of the reasons for Android’s massive popularity was its birth as an open source mobile OS that handset developers could modify the OS for their own devices and customer needs.

However, some critics say that has led to fragmentation of the OS making it difficult for Google to push updates, and Google over time has pulled more parts of Android out of the Android Open Source Project. According to a report by Doi Toshin, developers like Cyanogen are chafing at Google’s control of Android and its licencing terms, and quotes Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster as saying the company is “attempting to take control of Android away from Google.”

CyanogenMod is a popular flavour of Android, and Paolo Alto, Calif.-based Cyanogen was formed to commercialize it with a commercial distribution, Cyanogen OS. The company recently closed an US$80 million Series C financing round with investors that included Twitter Ventures and Rupert Murdoch, as well as electronics vendor Qualcomm Inc.

“We’re committed to creating an open computing platform that fundamentally empowers the entire mobile ecosystem from developers to hardware makers, and most importantly, consumers around the world,” said McMaster in a statement announcing the financing round, which brought its total financing to US$110 million.

According to Peter Levine, a partner at Cyanogen investor Andreessen Horowitz, there’s a play for Cyanogen as an alternative to the market dominance of Google and Apple.

Cyanogen users can choose from a number of themes on their handsets.
Cyanogen users can choose from a number of themes on their handsets.

“App and chip vendors are very worried about Google controlling the entire experience,” Levine recently told Forbes.

As Google seeks to push a more vanilla version of Android, Cyanogen aims to invest in continued development of its own open source variant as a more customizable alternative, and offer customization services to carriers and device makers that don’t have the resources to do so themselves. Indian smartphone vendor Micromax has already signed on, and China is seen as fertile territory given Google’s withdrawal from the market.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.