Telecom giant AT&T may have decided that it can improve the Android smartphone OS, or rather its offshoot, Cyanogen. According to a new report from The Information, the company is developing a phone running a forked version of the original OS, by teaming up with ZTE and Cyanogen.
The move apparently is aimed at undermining Google’s stronghold on the smartphone market by ridding the device of native Google apps like Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and others. Cyanogen already produces and licenses and alternate version of Android, but they have never been part of a partnership this big.
If the trio pulls it off, we will be seeing something the likes of what was tried with Amazon’s Fire OS – based on Google’s source code but controlled by someone else – but hopefully it won’t be the same kind of flop. It would allow achieving an OS-level integration with AT&T’s DirecTV service, but there would still be this issue: any later updates in Android are hard to bring into a forked OS.
Some of them wouldn’t even make it over. But it is no small thing that AT&T would be able to bring in user phone experience closer to its infrastructure. Having acquired DirecTV last year, they are working on a way to push the subscription video service on customers in a “more prominent way” and generate “more revenue”.
Cyanogen is famous for its feuding attitude towards Google, having famously stated that they would be “putting a bullet through Google’s head”. CEO Kirt McMaster has said that he wants Android out of Google’s grip, and more open source than it has been. He also feels manufacturers should find it easy to make low cost smartphones without developing the software for it. With all that, you can see why the deal with AT&T would be important for the company.
AT&T hasn’t officially stated how far these talks with Cyanogen have progressed, and it is still unclear how far they will take the idea. You would expect the nation’s second largest carrier has many projects it eventually booted because they seemed unviable. Fortunately, for sat-TV subscribers, DirecTV isn’t one of those, at least not yet.
Trying to come out with a mobile device with their own OS is sure to benefit AT&T on the DirecTV front as well, allowing them to develop and improve apps that closely integrate viewing experiences with phone use.