This startup once thought it would 'put a bullet through Google's head' -- now it's killing its own operating system

Lior talLinkedInCyanogen CEO Lior Tal

Cyanogen, the startup that once claimed its customised version of Android would “put a bullet through Google’s head,” has quietly announced that it’s throwing in the towel on direct competition as it pivots its business after a tough year of layoffs and executive shuffles.

“As part of the ongoing consolidation of Cyanogen, all services and Cyanogen-supported nightly builds will be discontinued no later than 12/31/16,” writes Cyanogen in a blog post released late on Friday night.

In plainer terms, this means that the Cyanogen operating system — which people could buy pre-loaded on smartphones like the OnePlus One or Lenovo ZUK Z1 — won’t be getting any further updates. And Cyanogen will be discontinuing its homebuilt services, like the “Find My Phone” feature.

Cyanogen has raised $185 million in funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Rupert Murdoch. And while Cyanogen had some limited success partnering with companies like OnePlus to preinstall its operating system on new phones, and a close relationship with Microsoft, manufacturers were hesitant to ditch Android entirely for fear of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In July 2016, following reports that Cyanogen had laid off 20% of its workforce, founder and former CEO Kirt McMaster told Business Insider that while the company was hard at work on a “modular OS” concept, it was committed to continuing to build the Cyanogen operating system.

In October 2016, Facebook veteran Lior Tal took the CEO role, with McMaster becoming executive chairman. Tal announced a renewed focus on that “modular OS” approach, where phone manufacturers can integrate bits and pieces of Cyanogen technology into their own Android phones, in lieu of investing as heavily in its own operating system.

“Android is this huge continent that everyone lives on,” Tal says. “That’s just how it is.”

This announcement doesn’t mean the end of Cyanogen as a concept: CyanogenMod, an open source version of the Cyanogen operating system that anybody can download and modify, still enjoys an active community who will keep hacking away at it as an Android alternative free from corporate control.

But for the average user, it’s way more of a hassle to download and maintain an open source operating system like CyanogenMod than it is to use Cyanogen, the company’s more streamlined, Google-like approach to system updates and services. It also means that if you already have a Cyanogen phone, it will get far less useful as of January 1st.

All in all, Cyanogen’s new mission is less dramatic than the company’s original mission of “[taking] control of Android away from Google,” but it provides those manufacturers an alternative way to offer their products without relying as heavily on the search giant’s services and technology.

“I think we can achieve the same mission within Android today,” Tal told Business Insider in October.

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