Cyanogen wants to eradicate apps, replace them with system 'mods'

Posted Feb 22, 2016 by James Walker
Cyanogen, makers of the CyanogenMod Android version, have announced an ambition plan to move smartphones away from apps and towards contextually aware experiences built into phones.
A selection of phones running Cyanogen OS
A selection of phones running Cyanogen OS
Recently, Cyanogen has expanded its efforts to distinguish its own branch of Android, leading to many spectators claiming it is trying to steal it away from Google. The claims are not unfounded — if Cyanogen succeeds with its latest effort then it will end up with a very different version of the operating system. One day, Cyanogen could end up competing directly with the original Android.
The company announced its new MOD framework at Mobile World Congress today. It will let third-party app developers deep-link their app into the Cyanogen operating system, letting it do more at the system level than Android currently allows.
Cyanogen already has a high-profile partner on-board. Microsoft has used the support of Cyanogen to bring its Windows apps to Android. Its digital assistant, Cortana, is included out-of-the-box on a new Cyanogen install, baked more deeply into the operating system than the standard Cortana app, adding features like always-on listening that would ordinarily be impossible on Android.
Cyanogen is now going to let more developers access more of the operating system in this way. It wants to accelerate the creation of these new richly integrated apps through its new MOD Ready program, a scheme that will "change the way users, developers, OEMs [manufacturers] and MNOs [networks] build and interact with their mobile devices."
The intention is to eventually move smartphones beyond apps by demonstrating that more functionality can be achieved by building things directly into the operating system's core. "Apps" will be interlinked and able to access each other, the system and the hardware, letting users schedule a ride-sharing service from their calendar and start a video call in a third-party app from the system contacts list. Cyanogen sees MOD as a "new vision" for computing that could be as significant as the development of apps in the long term.
"Thinner bezel, better biometrics, faster processors….changes never cease, yet many people are still bored with their devices. Why is this? We think people are intuitively looking for a more natural way to interact with them. MOD enables this by effectively creating a new runtime, a new way to build services for the Android super platform," said Kirt McMaster, CEO & Co-Founder of Cyanogen.
"According to some estimates, by 2020 Android's scale will be greater than Facebook and iOS combined. A single platform that touches over 4 billion people around the world, enabling them to do practically everything. But apps, as they exist today, can be boring and single-minded. Mods are something entirely different. We are excited to be working with many partners around the world who understand the new vision of computing that MOD enables for Android and we look forward to seeing the innovations that arise from it."
Cyanogen will officially launch MOD next month by rolling it out as a software update to Cyanogen phones running Cyanogen OS 13.0 or greater. First-generation mods ready to use straight away will include a Truecaller caller ID mod, lockscreen customisation features and a selection of Microsoft services.
Skype will integrate into the dialer to add native VoIP functionality, OneNote will let users make notes from wherever they are in the operating system and Cortana will be able to oversee things from the centre of the OS.
Cyanogen has given itself a challenge by trying to reinvent the app model that consumers are now familiar with. The MOD program sounds similar to the "Scopes" concept of Ubuntu Phone as both systems seek to blur the distinction between "system" and "app" to achieve the universal aim of letting users do more with their phone.