Cyanogen Inc. has announced a new feature for the upcoming Marshmallow version of its commercial Android skin, Cyanogen OS. The company is launching the “Mods” platform, a way to build apps “directly into the OS.” The platform’s biggest participant is none other than Microsoft, which has built Skype, Cortana, OneNote, and Hyperlapse apps for Cyanogen’s platform.
Cyanogen and Microsoft previously announced a “Strategic Partnership,” which explains the two companies’ almost joint rollout of this feature. The partnership covers “Bing services, Skype, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, and Microsoft Office,” and it seems that most of those products are represented here. Four of the six announced Mods are Microsoft products. Configure the Mod platform appropriately and it almost seems like a Microsoft version of Android with Cyanogen as the intermediary.
Cyanogen’s branding of this feature is rather confusing. “Cyanogen Inc.,” the company, already makes an open source Android skin called “CyanogenMod.” Cyanogen then takes CyanogenMod and adds some proprietary features to make “Cyanogen OS,” a commercial version of its Android skin that it tries to license to manufacturers. That was hard enough for some people to keep straight, and now this new feature is only for Cyanogen OS, and it’s called “Mods.” If you’re keeping track, Cyanogen Inc., Cyanogen OS, CyanogenMod, and Cyanogen’s Mod platform are now all separate entities.
It’s not clear what exactly the “Mod” platform offers over a normal app. There are dialer mods that integrate Skype or Truecaller, but the dialer can already be completely replaced by a third-party app. There’s a Hyperlapse camera app, but the camera app is another app that can be replaced by the user at any time. Even Cortana integration, which seems to integrate voice commands into the OS, seems to already be supported by Android via the new Assist API in Android 6.0. This largely appears like an obfuscated pitch for a Cyanogen App Store.
The one feature that seems like it would benefit from OS-level integration is the “Social Lock screen,” which puts social network updates on the lock screen. There are some janky lock screen apps out there, but if this is a true lock screen replacement, it would require a special API from Cyanogen. The blog post says developers can “deeply integrate” their app into Android “in a way that only Google could” previously, but it’s unclear what possible integration points will exist in Cyanogen.
The “Mods” page trumpets “Welcome to the Post-App Era,” suggesting that integrating features directly into the operating system is better than having separate apps. Interestingly, this is the opposite position of Google, which for years has been working to separate parts of Android to into the Play Store, which allows for easier updating.
Cyanogen is also pitching a “Mod Ready” program for OEMs, which would allow companies to load Cyanogen OS onto their devices and access the available Mods. There’s even a “Mod Ready” logo that OEMs can stick on the back of a device. So far there are no announced partners.
Cyanogen plans on launching the Mod platform “next month” alongside with Cyanogen OS 13, the first version of the OS to be based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow.