BARCELONA, Spain — If Cyanogen had any say, all those apps cluttering your smartphone would go the way of the dinosaurs.
Of course, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. But the Palo Alto-based company has announced a new version of its Android-based operating system called ‘MOD’ that will give developers an ability — normally reserved for Google — to integrate their apps into a phone’s OS.
“We believe this is truly disruptive,” said Vikram Natarajan, Cyanogen’s senior vice president of global partnerships and distribution. “Every developer wants to know how to access the phone’s OS on a deeper level.”
MOD is the latest salvo from a company that has raised $110 million in venture capital to develop a distinctly different version of Android — one that undercuts Google’s advantage in giving away the free operating system. While Google doesn’t directly make money from Android, many of its own apps (Gmail, Google Now, Search, etc.) are embedded in each version of the OS at a deep level.
Previously, Cyanogen’s OS let users install a version of Android that removed the apps that typically come pre-installed on an Android phone, whether they came from Google, Samsung, or some mobile phone carrier.
Now, with the MOD platform, developers will be able to go one step further and build their apps directly into the Androids OS, rather than having them sit on top as separate program.
“Normally this access is reserved for Google and Apple,” said Stephen Lawler, Cyanogen’s vice president of engineering. “We’re democratizing that.”
In the initial version, for example, Cyanogen has partnered with Microsoft so that Skype and Cortana can be built right into the phone. That means, in the case of Skype, that a user doesn’t have to tap on a Skype app button to launch the service.
Instead, Skype is built into the phone’s main caller, so a call may happen through Skype or through the regular phone itself.
With Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-activated personal assistant, users can use their voice to control basic phone functions, like asking the camera to take a selfie. This means voice-activation is not just limited to the features within the Cortana app.
These types of partnerships will necessarily be limited, since Cyanogen can’t bake hundreds of app-like services into the OS. But because this kind of access will be so fundamental, Cyanogen will negotiate with developers to take a small slice of whatever revenue they derive from these built-in services.
Execs will also sell carriers and phone manufacturers on the idea that this deep integration offers a version of Android that will make it stand out from the hundreds of other Android-based phones sold around the world.
“In an ocean of sameness in Android, you want to stand out,” Natarajan concluded.
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