Cyanogen is one of the most popular open source Android variants, running on the OnePlus One and and available for all to tinker with on their own phone.
But CEO Kirt McMaster has bigger plans. He hopes to build it into a full-fledged Android rival with its own app store and a more “open” structure that recalls the early days of Android.
He made the comments during The Information’s The Next Phase of Android conference in San Francisco. His opening remark was unambiguous about his intentions: “I’m the CEO of Cyanogen. We’re attempting to take Android away from Google.”
His main gripe is that Android increasingly favors Google services, giving them deeper integration to Android than third-party alternatives. For example Google Now has additional permissions and access to data that other apps don’t get.
Yet forking off Android is a tricky game. While Amazon has had some success with its Fire OS on tablets, the Fire Phone was a disaster. It’s a two OS world, with Android dominating worldwide market share but iOS very popular, especially in the U.S. Even Windows Phone is having trouble gaining traction, and it has Microsoft behind it.
An alternate view was offered by Dropbox’s vice president of partnerships, Marc Leibowitz. He said Google has played fairly with Android, allowing services like Dropbox to compete.
The story behind the story: When Android got started it was the “open” alternative to Apple’s seemingly locked down iOS. Over time, however, Google has sought to tighten how much modification third-parties can do, requiring more prominent placement of its own services, like the Play Store, Google Maps, and Gmail. This trend is continuing, with Google pushing a uniform look and feel to Android and its apps with Material Design.