Getting a phone call from a number you don't know can be an all too common occurrence. And if you're on Android, the mystery of these unknown incoming calls was basically solved years ago by companies that will do a quick web search to tell you who it is, as your phone is ringing. In fact, Google's been building that into the dialer of its Nexus phones since the Nexus 5, and Facebook just launched a dialer of its own to do much of the same thing.
Cyanogen wants to loosen Google's grip on Android
But not everyone can or wants to use Google's (or Facebook's) services, something that's been a mission statement for Android mod maker Cyanogen. The company is on a quest to replace Google's grip on the core parts of Android, and thinks that users can be better-served by apps that can be updated more frequently and that play better with competing third-party services. Yet unlike some carriers and hardware makers that basically pre-install apps, Cyanogen's been building them into its own software.
The latest in that effort is a partnership the company is announcing today with Truecaller, a deal that will bake its web-enabled caller ID right into phones running Cyanogen OS. The feature exists not as an app, but a built-in service, and requires users to opt in before it starts working. After saying yes, it will sniff out an incoming number in less than a second and tell you who it is.
Cyanogen's vice president of product Dave Herman notes that the feature extends beyond identifying numbers, and was designed to keep spam at bay. Besides identifying an incoming caller, it lets people report bad numbers. So far its database includes about 1.7 billion numbers, and if it's one that people have marked as a solicitor or scammer, you'll see it in Truecaller's caller ID.
You can also see if the call is one you shouldn't pick up
"You still see the phone number, but then you see that 635 people have marked it as a spam call, and instantly you can answer it or see whether to reject it," Herman says. "That's something that's going to bode well for emerging markets, where spam calling is very high."
Emerging markets such as India are where Cyanogen has spent much of its energy. It's partnered with local companies like Micromax to bake local services into its OS. Truecaller's reach in this case will be much wider because it's already being used by more than 100 million people, Herman says.
Cyanogen is currently in the midst of another similar deal with Microsoft that it announced last month. It will bring "native integrations" of Bing, Skype, OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook, and Microsoft Office into Cyanogen OS later this year. Those will join NextBit, a sync, backup, and Apple handoff-like service that Cyanogen began integrating in its phones last fall. Its key feature is letting you stop using an app on your phone, then pick up right where you left off on your tablet or another device (and vice versa).
These integrations, and this new one with Truecaller, raise the question of whether this kind of deep integration is better for users than simply installing apps from Google's store, or others like it, where they can get updated without touching other parts of a user's operating system. Google began decoupling many of its apps from Android for just this reason, since apps could get quickly outdated if people were waiting for an update from their carrier. Herman contends that Cyanogen's speed thus far should allay those fears. "We have the ability on our side to push updates frequently, like our nightly builds," he says. "People expect them daily."
But who's in charge of updating everything?
Herman has a similarly positive line when asked about whether Truecaller, or any other third-party service the company partners with, ends up getting bought by a potential competitor. "Whatever may happen to corporate structure, we don't pay attention to those kind of things," he says.
The Truecaller integration is going out as part of an upcoming software update in the next few months. Users who already have the app installed will also be able to keep using it, or install something else if they end up not liking it.