Cyanogen wanted to challenge Android. That turned out to be harder than it seemed
Cyanogen Inc., which produced a version of the Android mobile operating system that competed with Google’s, has announced it will cease services and updates for the software it claimed was installed on more than 50 million devices. The brief statement Friday described the move as part of an ongoing consolidation at Cyanogen that has also included shuttering an office, reducing staff, and shifting to a more modular approach to modifying Android.
On Christmas Eve, leaders of the CyanogenMod open-source OS, which Cyanogen Inc. was created to commercialize, announced that the shutdown of infrastructure was a “deathblow” for the open-source project, in part because Cyanogen, Inc. owns the brand. The CyanogenMod.org website has since been shut down, apparently not by choice.
Meanwhile, a new project dubbed Lineage OS has been announced as the continuation of CyanogenMod.
The announcements mark, if not exactly an end, then at least a major retrenchment for an ambitious plan to provide a viable alternative to Google and Apple’s dominant mobile ecosystems. Cyanogen Inc.’s co-founder and former CEO, Kirt McMaster, said in 2015 that the company would “take Android away from Google,” and some major players had stakes in that goal. Investors in Cyanogen included Andreessen Horowitz, Tencent, and Microsoft, and the company had been valued at nearly $1 billion.
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Microsoft in particular had a strategic interest in the development of an alternative to Google’s version of Android, after failing to make headway with its own Windows mobile systems. Google offers Android for free to device manufacturers, but has required manufacturers to pre-install a suite of its services, and even dictated their placement on phone menus. That puts alternatives such as Microsoft’s Bing search engine at a major disadvantage. Cyanogen’s OS made it easier to offer phones that didn’t have Google services baked in.
Steve Kondik, who began Cyanogen as an open source project long before Cyanogen Inc. existed, has blamed McMaster for the company’s failure to reach its goal. In a November statement accompanying his own departure, Kondik faulted McMaster for “bad business deals” and intense internal strife that culminated in the company essentially halting work on the Cyanogen OS months before the official shutdown announcement.
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The “bad business deals” referenced by Kondik likely include those that ended Cyanogen’s relationship with Chinese phone maker OnePlus. The OnePlus One was a widely praised flagship device that shipped with the Cyanogen OS. But OnePlus has since shifted to its own custom version of Android, a split possibly triggered by Cyanogen inking a conflicting deal with India’s Micromax.
As Michael Simon details at PCWorld, the end of Cyanogen is a victory for Google, which now has more control than ever over Android, and can continue using the OS to drive users to its services.