Google Ejects Android ROM-Maker Cyanogen’s Installer App From Play — Citing Developer T&C Violations

Well that didn’t take long. Google has asked Cyanogen Inc. to remove its alternative Android ROM installer app from the Play store.

Cyanogen raised $7 million from Benchmark Capital back in September to turn its geek-beloved aftermarket version of Android into a mainstream flavour of the platform — with the ultimate aim of using an Android variant to compete with standard Android (and iOS) for consumers’ attention.

To kick off its mainstream market targeting effort, Cyanogen released an installer app for its CyanogenMod earlier this month — to make it easier for less tech savvy Android users to flash the ROM on their devices.

But, writing in a blog yesterday, Cyanogen said Google’s Play support team had contacted it to ask it to remove the app, citing violations of Play’s developer terms — warning that if the app wasn’t voluntarily removed it would be forcibly ejected.

So Cyanogen’s attempt to boost the popularity of its Android-based alternative to Android apparently got Google’s attention too.

Google Cyanogen

At the time of writing Google had not responded to requests for comment on why it asked Cyanogen to remove its installer app.

But here’s what Cyanogen said Google told it:

Today, we were contacted by the Google Play Support team to say that our CyanogenMod Installer application is in violation of Google Play’s developer terms.

They advised us to voluntarily remove the application, or they would be forced to remove it administratively. We have complied with their wishes while we wait for a more favorable resolution.

To those unfamiliar with the application, it has a single function – to guide users to enable “ADB”, a built in development and debugging tool, and then navigates the user to the desktop installer. The desktop application then performs the installation of the CyanogenMod on their Android device.

After reaching out to the Play team, their feedback was that though application itself is harmless, since it ‘encourages users to void their warranty’, it would not be allowed to remain in the store.

Android being an open platform means users can still download and install Cyanogen Mod via a number of routes, including from Cyanogen’s own website.

However, if you’re on a mission to lower the barrier of entry to your alternative Android firmware, requiring people to seek out and sideload your software rather than stumble across an installer app sitting on the shelves of Google’s mainstream store does make that mission a lot harder — as Cyanogen’s blog post goes on to note:

Fortunately, Android is open enough that devices allow for installing applications via ‘Unknown Sources’ (ie sideload). Though it’s a hassle and adds steps to the process, this does allow us a path forward, outside of the Play Store itself.

According to Cyanogen, the installer app was downloaded “hundreds of thousands” of times in the two weeks+ it was available on Google Play, which it argues proves “the demand for more choice” — another reason Google may have started feeling uncomfortable about the installer’s presence on its store. Android may be an open platform but Google Play is very much ‘made and maintained in Mountain View’.

Cyanogen is clearly hoping to resolve the Play blip if it can. “As we work through this new hurdle, we will continue to make available and support the installation process via our own hosting services,” it added in its blog.

Why might the average Android user want to install Cyanogen Mod? It’s a way to ditch the bloatware and crapware loaded onto many Android devices by carriers, for instance, or to remove a custom Android skin — such as HTC’s Sense UI — that’s irritating or slows down the Android experience.

Custom skins also typically delay the process of getting Android updates, and can also force Android users to be stuck on older version of the platform even if their device hardware could technically handle an upgrade.

Cyanogen Mod also includes features not offered in standard Android — including native theming, an OpenVPN client, support for Wi-Fi- Bluetooth- and USB-tethering, CPU overclocking and FLAC audio codec support.

In addition, Cyanogen argues that its ROM can increase the performance and reliability of Android compared with official firmware releases.

Why might Google be nervous about Cyanogen? If an alternative Android platform was able to gain significant traction it could undermine Google’s monetisation of Android — via the services it preloads onto Android (such as Play, Maps, YouTube) — by providing an opportunity for other services to be preloaded instead (as is often the case in the Chinese market).

It could also weaken Google’s control of Android, and it could erode the attractiveness of the platform in carriers’ eyes, making them less keen to promote Android devices to their customers and in their retail stores if they can’t be sure their users won’t be saddled with their branded bloatware.