Microsoft investing in Cyanogen to spread use of apps and service
Microsoft CEO Sayta Nadella has been pushing to get the company's apps and services on as many platforms as possible since he took chargeMicrosoft

Microsoft may have its own smartphone operating system, but it seems eager to push its products on the much more popular iOS and Android platforms as it seeks to get as many people as possible to use its apps and services.

This week the company has already launched a new version of its Outlook email service for iPhone and iPad as well as fully released its Office suite of apps for Android devices.

Now it is looking to more deeply integrate its apps and services in an alternative version of Android called Cyanogen.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft will be a minority investor in a $70 million (£46.5m) funding round which will see the company valued at $500m, according to Bloomberg.

Sources speaking to Bloomberg say that Microsoft is holding discussions with Cyanogen about "creating a version of the Android mobile-operating system that's more friendly to Microsoft services" leading to a possible commercial partnership.

Cyanogen is a US-based company which has created a version of Android - called CyanogenMod - which offers services not supported on the official version of Android, such as support for high-resolution FLAC audio and the ability to deeply tweak the way the software looks and operates.

Taking Android from Google

Unlike some forked versions of Android - like Amazon's Fire OS - most of Cyanogen's 50 million users still access Google's Play Store, but the company wants to change that - and with Microsoft's help could do so.

Earlier this month, Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster said the company's goal was to "take Android away from Google." It wants users of Cyanogen to begin to use a Cyanogen app store rather than Google Play.

Currently, Google imposes a lot of restrictions on manufacturers which use its "free and open" Android software including what it calls an "anti-fragmentation clause" preventing the likes of Samsung, HTC and LG from selling smartphones without the Google Play store pre-installed.

It also forces manufacturers using Google Play to also use all other Google services (such as Gmail, Maps etc) meaning services from companies like Microsoft stand much less chance of succeeding on Android.

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The OnePlus One runs Cyanogen OSIBTimes UK

Community

Cyanogen has a full-time staff of around 80 people, but it is the Cyanogen community, comprised mostly of unpaid volunteers and enthusiasts from around the world, which is key to the software's success. They take the latest official version of Android and "port" it to dozens of new and older devices.

The mobile startup has also struck deals with hardware manufacturers - such as Chinese companies OnePlus and Oppo - to pre-install CyanogenMod on their smartphones.

The benefits of a deal with Cyanogen for Microsoft are obvious. It would get its services (Bing search, Office, Outlook, OneDrive and more) pre-installed on versions of Cyanogen software.

Considering that Microsoft has sold just 79.5 million Lumia smartphones in total, adding a potential 50 million people using Cyanogen would certainly be a big boost for Microsoft if they were all using its services.

Forked

Microsoft has struggled to make its mark in the smartphone market, with Windows Phone struggling to attain a 3% global market share where Android dominates and iOS gobbles up most of the rest of the market.

Alternative versions of the official Android software like Cyanogen are growing in popularity, particularly in countries like China, where there are a number of third-party app stores which can replace Google's Play Store.

Xiaomi, one of the rising stars of the smartphone world, has created MIUI, a forked version of Android which offers its own services in place of Google's app, film, book and game stores.

Amazon's forked version of Android, for its Fire tablets and smartphone, removes all Google apps and replaces them with Amazon's own app store and services.

Since Satya Nadella took control of Microsoft last year, he has been pushing to get the company's own services on as many platforms as possible, with the long-awaited launch of Office for iPad a case in point.

Microsoft last week announced its own vision for the future of computing with Windows 10, a multi-platform piece of software which will run on everything from smartphones to desktops.

However, with Android's dominance of the smartphone landscape looking like it will remain in place for some time to come, it is a smart move by Nadella to look to push Microsoft's services as wide as possible, and if Google won't promote them, then Cyanogen could be the next best option.