Cyanogen wants to wrest Android away from Google -- and now it has the cash to make a serious play with its Google-free CyanogenMod Android mobile operating system.
Cyanogen, which describes itself as a mobile operating system pure-play, just raised $80 million in Series C funding.
The Palo Alto, California- and Seattle-based company will use the money to hire talent and drive the development of its open operating system platform that promises customization, speed, battery life and security.
In the Western world, having services like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play and Google Calendar included in Android is part of the draw. But in other parts of the world, Android without Google services already dominates, notably in the huge China market. China's Xiaomi, for instance, now one of the dominant players in the Asia smartphone market, uses MIUI, an Android variant without Google.
Some smartphone manufacturers also express reservations about being so tightly tied to Google's rise and fall, as well as its control, and with revelations about U.S. National Security Agency spying are distrustful of using Google's services.
"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 Kirt McMaster, CEO of Cyanogen. He called his backers an "amazingly diverse group" that’s supporting a "truly open Android."
That "amazingly diverse group" is led in the latest round by Premji Invest and includes the likes of Twitter Ventures, Qualcomm, Telefónica Ventures, Smartfren Telecom, Index Ventures, Access Industries (the U.S.-based industrial group headed by Len Blavatnik), Rupert Murdoch, Vivi Nevo, and others they haven’t announced. Existing investors Benchmark, Andreessen Horowitz, Redpoint Ventures, and Tencent Holdings also chipped in.
"We invested in Cyanogen because we're big proponents of what they're doing in opening up Android and supporting global and local ecosystem players," said Sandesh Patnam, technology sector lead of Premji Invest. "Cyanogen is well positioned to become the third leading mobile OS, and we're excited to back them in growing their business on a global scale."
Cyanogen has received a total of $110 million in funding. Cyanogen is known for both its commercial distribution, Cyanogen OS, and open-source project CyanogenMod, which has more than 50 million users in over 190 countries.
A Google Headache?
Indeed, Cyanogen has so much momentum that Forbes magazine recently published an article entitled, "Meet Cyanogen, The Startup That Wants to Steal Android From Google." In it, McMaster boldly declares, "We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head."
There is plenty for Cyanogen to gain, but it truly would have to dethrone Android to gain a significant portion of it. Android and iOS together owned 96.3 percent of smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to market research firm IDC. Android alone had 81.5 percent of the market.
We asked Greg Sterling, vice president of Strategy and Insights at the Local Search Association, for his thoughts on the emerging competitor. He told us Cyanogen wants to offer a truly open version of Android as an alternative to Google's Android.
"The company criticizes Google's tight control over the ‘tier 1’ version of Android and is positioning itself as a potential alternative -- in the future -- for OEMs," Sterling said. "Google Play is the current key to Google's control over the ecosystem. However, if Cyanogen gets big and successful enough and creates its own parallel app store universe, that could create a major headache for Google and its mobile distribution."
Posted: 2015-03-25 @ 7:39pm PT
YES, please!!! It's high time for something other than big brother Google. Plenty of users here in US would be interested in having a real alternative. It is scary how difficult it is to find apps and other Android programs that don't require a Google account. I'm a non-techie having to learn more than I want to about programming and open source, just to try to avoid the miscreants.
Posted: 2015-03-25 @ 1:44pm PT
Thank you, Roger, we've fixed it.
Posted: 2015-03-25 @ 1:40pm PT
Just splitting hairs here, but Xiaomi's android variant is called "MIUI", pronounced me-you-eye.