Cyanogen just found a new ally in its battle to “take Android away from Google”: Microsoft.
The two companies have struck a deal to integrate popular Microsoft apps into Cyanogen Operating System, which now comes preloaded on phones like the OnePlus One after rising from CyanogenMod, one of the most popular alternative Android ROMs around. (Update for clarity: CyanogenMod is still around and being developed by the community as a separate entity from Cyanogen OS.)
The duo is diving in with both feet, too: Cyanogen OS will include Skype, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, Office, and Bing services going forward. Cyanogen’s taking Android away from Google and handing it to Microsoft, it seems.
The story behind the story: Rumors of collaboration between Microsoft and Cyanogen were first tied to Cyanogen’s recent funding round. Microsoft didn’t wind up investing, but today’s announcement confirms that the whispers contained a kernel of truth—and this strategic partnership is a perfect fit for the goals of each company.
Since sprouting from humble beginnings as a custom Android ROM, Cyanogen has sprouted into a full-fledged company that is actively seeking partners to preload its OS on phones.
CEO Kirt McMaster has publicly complained about how deeply Google integrates its services into Android. Phone manufacturers have to follow strict rules concerning the prominent placement of Google’s apps on homescreens.
Cyanogen—a more flexible fork of stock Android—stands to differentiate itself from the masses of devices running official Android builds by integrating third-party services, though it remains to be seen if buyers are willing to embrace an Android device without Google apps. Amazon’s Fire Phone was a flop, but it was released in North America, while Cyanogen-powered phones are more likely to appear in developing nations, where Google doesn’t have the stranglehold it commands in the U.S.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has reimagined itself as a “mobile first, cloud first” company since CEO Satya Nadella seized the reins last year, allowing its services to finally break free of its lockstep with Windows. In the months since his elevation to the lead role, Office has landed on Android and iOS, OneNote’s expanded to, well, everywhere, and Microsoft’s even launched a program to quickly test ideas for new Android apps. Nadella’s Microsoft wants you using Microsoft services even if you don’t use Windows.
The new Microsoft is "the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world," he said in a letter to employees last July.
This isn’t the first deal Microsoft’s inked to bring its apps to Android devices. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to preload Office on Android tablets from Dell and Samsung, and Samsung’s Galaxy S6 comes with Office, OneDrive, and OneNote preloaded.