How Do Cyanogen’s Troubles Impact Microsoft’s “Plan B” for Mobile? (Updated)

How Do Cyanogen's Troubles Impact Microsoft's "Plan B" for Mobile?

UPDATE: Prompted by media coverage, Cyanogen has finally broken the silence on its future. See below for a quick update on this situation. –Paul

Cyanogen is reportedly laying off 20 percent of its staff and halting its Android-based OS efforts to “pivot to apps.” So, naturally I’m wondering how this impacts its deal with Microsoft, and the development of a very Microsoft-centric version of Android.

Last year, I aired the theory that Android was Microsoft’s “Plan B” for mobile, and later deals with Samsung, Dell, and other Android devices makers seemed to clinch the deal. As, of course, did Microsoft’s mid-2015 retreat from the smart phone market.

But it was a deal with tiny Cyanogen that really made me wonder.

Under the terms of the partnership, the two firms agreed to integrate Microsoft apps and services across Cyanogen’s open Android OS, including Bing services, Skype, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, and Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote). Later, Cortana was added to the roster as well.

The first Microsoft “mods” for Cyanogen—Skype, Cortana, OneNote, and Hyperlapse—were released in February 2016, giving Microsoft an unprecedented level of integration into an Android-based mobile OS. For example, it’s possible to integrate the Skype mod into the phone’s native phone dialer so that all Internet-based phone calls are routed through the service.

This is a big deal. Until, of course, you realize that Cyanogen is in a lot of trouble.

That story was first reported by Android Police, which says that Cyanogen is undergoing major layoffs and may pivot to apps. And it was later confirmed by Recode.

“We have been told by several sources that the company plans to undergo some sort of major strategic shift, with one claiming that this involves a ‘pivot to apps’,” the original report notes. “It’s not clear what such a pivot would entail.”

Speculating—since what else can one do?—I’m guessing that the “pivot to apps” means bringing whatever Cyanogen experiences it can to stock/normal Android. And foregoing the current business model, which is to create a unique version of Android that doesn’t rely on Google services. Which means an end to that Microsoft-centric version of Android.

That said, I’m not sure this is a big deal.

Cyanogen was never a big effort, really, and Microsoft’s partnerships with Android device makers, and its sweeping efforts to create in-house Android apps, are of course the real “Plan B.” In some ways, the Cyanogen partnership was always a long shot, a Plan C of sorts.

So there are two possible outcomes here.

One, that Microsoft is happy with its Android mobile app efforts—which includes those partnerships with hardware makers as well as directly offering those apps to end users—and simply continues to expand them going forward.

Two, that Microsoft really does see a future in a deeply-integrated version of Android that replaces key Google apps and services with its own offerings. If so, it would obviously need to buy Cyanogen, which one assumes wouldn’t be that expensive.

Admit it. That’s an amazing possibility.


After I posted this article yesterday, Cyanogen’s Steve Kondik finally addressed the rumors and speculation surrounding the company and its products, or what he calls a “circus of misinformation.” To be clear, he’s not referring to what I wrote here, which is simply some thoughts around what might happen if Cyanogen did “pivot to apps” as both Android Police and Recode claimed. But he says that’s not the case.

CyanogenMod isn’t going anywhere, nor has Cyanogen discontinued it’s efforts towards the goal of bringing it to a larger audience.

CyanogenMod is something that works. Perhaps it doesn’t need to “go big” to work.

Contrary to popular belief, we are not “pivoting to apps” nor are we shelving [CyanogenMod]. We’ll have additional information on the site soon.

So that’s good news for Cyanogen fans, I guess. But I would be surprised if this effort ever turned into anything serious in its current state. And I still feel that the level of Microsoft’s involvement in this project will help determine whether it ever “goes big.” I don’t think it will.

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