March 24, 2015

Meet Cyanogen, The Startup That Wants To Steal Android From Google

It’s a little hard to take Kirt McMaster seriously at first. He tends to run on his own schedule, and when he shows up 20 minutes late for a meeting on a recent weekday, there’s not so much as a mention of his tardiness, let alone an apology. In black jeans, a black hoodie that looks a half-size too small, brown Birkenstock sandals and a pair of fat black rings–one on his left thumb, one on his right pinkie–the 46-year-old looks more like a techno beach bum than an entrepreneur. He works out of a squat, gray, converted plumbing-supply store in Palo Alto, Calif. that doesn’t call attention to the fact that his startup, Cyanogen, is housed inside. The period sign on the façade says “John F. Dahl Plumbing and Heating (since 1895).” The wardrobe and the location are disguises, necessary when one is hatching one of the most daring plots in Silicon Valley history. But McMaster happily blows his cover minutes into our conversation, summing up his mission–preposterous as it sounds–in his booming baritone: “We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head.”

The time is ripe for someone to try. The mobile revolution kicked into gear by the iPhone is getting stagnant just as it’s reaching a new inflection point. The number of smartphones on the planet is expected to grow from about 2.5 billion to nearly 6 billion by 2020. Prices for fast and feature-rich mobiles are crashing, allowing new powerhouses like Xiaomi to emerge in record time. Yet Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android control 96% of the mobile operating system market. It’s their chess game, and we all get to choose between white and black. McMaster doesn’t so much want to insert himself between Apple and Google as to kick their chessboard over and deliver to the world a third option, Cyanogen, a six-year-old mobile operating system that’s essentially a souped-up version of Android and available outside of Google’s control.

Read more at Forbes.

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