Talking tech since 2003

Today, the Wall Street Journal’s Digits Blog reports that Microsoft is a minority investor in a $70 million round of financing for Cyanogen, the company that’s built a non-Google version of the Android operating system that’s grown popular among those who have rooted or otherwise unlocked their smartphones.

According to the report, Cyanogen’s boss, Kirt McMaster, was recently quoted by an interview with the Information as saying “We’re going to take Android away from Google,” and that over 50 million users worldwide have installed a version of Cyanogen onto their phones. However, as AndroidCentral points out, Google revealed yesterday that over 1 billion Android handsets shipped in 2014 alone.

The Nokia X2 was the first Android handset released by Microsoft – and so far, it’s also the last. Could the Cyanogen investment mean more Android smartphones are on the way from Redmond?

To put that in perspective, if that 50 million Cyanogen installations figure were just for smartphones shipped in 2014 (and it’s not), that’d still be only five percent of that 1 billion figure. Android easily outstrips Cyanogen in terms of installations. That said, Cyanogen is worth paying attention to.

Cyanogen is but one of many makers of custom Android ROMs, but it’s become the most popular and most visible, actually inking deals with handset makers to include Cyanogen Mod on devices – like the OnePlus One, which until recently shipped with Cyanogen Mod out of the box. Those two companies apparently had a falling out, but Cyanogen is still on the rise, it seems.

What’s the significance of Microsoft investing in Cyanogen? As we know, Nokia released the Nokia X line of smartphones last year, which ran a Windows Phone-styled, forked version of Android. That mobile OS connected users with Microsoft apps and services, while keeping the majority of Android apps available for download. It’s an interesting experiment that, so far, Microsoft only barely followed up on. It’s entirely possible that Microsoft could work with Cyanogen to bridge the gap between the Android ecosystem and the Microsoft ecosystem, while cutting Google out of the process.

Microsoft has recently released versions of Office for Android tablets, and just this week the company released Outlook for Android and iOS. In short, the company is making sure that all users have access to Microsoft products and services, no matter what platform they’re on. It’s not much of a stretch to see how an investment in Cyanogen – no matter how small today – could end up to pay dividends to Microsoft down the road.

Could Cyanogen make a new, improved version of the Windows Phone-style Android OS for future Nokia X phones? With Microsoft’s growing suite of Android compatible apps, I’d say that chances seem pretty likely. A partnership – should one actually form – could benefit both companies immensely in terms of customer reach for Microsoft and large quantities of cash for Cyanogen. If that happens, Google better watch its back…

[Sources: WSJ Digits, AndroidCentral, The Verge]

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