How Cyanogen plans to be Android’s open-source champion

by: Gary SimsJanuary 16, 2014

cyanogenmod nexus 5 boot screen aa 2The beauty of Android is that it is open source. Well in theory anyway. Google develops and maintains Android and it publishes the source code via the Android Open Source Project. From there smaller manufacturers and custom firmware makers can take the code and build their own Android ROMs. One of the most popular custom Android firmwares is Cyanogenmod. Based on Google’s AOSP code the Cyanogenmod team add a range of new features that aren’t found in vanilla Android. Back in September 2013 Steve Kondik, Koushik Dutta, and a small group of CyanogenMod developers established their own company – Cyanogen, Inc.

[quote qtext=”We want to kind of spread the idea that it’s okay to change the OS on your phone and the software that your phone runs. That should be the norm, not the exception. ” qperson=” Steve Kondik” qsource=”TechHive” qposition=”left”]But there is something wrong with Android’s open source model. Although Google releases the source code for Android it doesn’t (and can’t) release the drivers needed for the various chipsets like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc. For its Nexus range of devices Google releases binary drivers which at least means that projects like Cyanogenmod can incorporate them into their builds. Because of these binary drivers (and other proprietary information which isn’t available to the general public) alternative firmware makers can only support a subset of devices, devices which basically have been reversed engineered.

Another problem is that Google’s suite of apps (Google Play, Gmail and Maps etc) aren’t open source. This means that it is possible to create a smartphone or tablet from the open source version of Android that doesn’t have the Play Store etc. This is in fact the biggest reason why there is so much malware for Android. In places where people use Android devices without Google’s apps alternative ecoo-systems exist including third party app stores and other online services. The security of these alternatives often isn’t very strong.

Cyanogen, Inc. plans to offer Cyanogenmod to handset manufacturers while simultaneously continuing to work on the community version, in fact Cyanogen’s primary goal is listed as “organize, lead, and support our community.” By working with handset manufacturers like Oppo and OnePlus Cyanogen have complete access to any proprietary and special information. Since Cyanogen is an open-source company it will be able to publish as much information (and source code) as it can for these OEM devices.

But building a finished product for an OEM is a little different than producing custom firmware for enthusiasts. In comments email to TechHive Steve Kondik said, “in the custom ROM community people are a little more tolerant to get the most bleeding edge thing on their device, but when you’re trying to ship a real product you’ve really got to nail those edge cases… make sure things don’t crash.”


Cyanogen now also need to think about marketing, something it didn’t need to worry about before. To make a profitable business Cyanogen needs its OEMs to sell lots of devices. It also needs to convince consumers that Cyanogen is a “better Android” while still remaining 100% compatible with Android. The Oppo N1, which runs CM10.2, recently passed Google’s CTS (compatibility test suite), CDD (compatibility definition document) and CTS Verifier which means it can officially run Google’s apps and access the Google Play Store. This is great news for Cyanogen, but marketing isn’t only about compatibility. One thing for sure is that the word “Cyanogenmod” isn’t very snappy. However it looks like Cyanogen has plans to rebrand soon. “We’re going to do a minor rebranding for the mass market because CyanogenMod doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue,” said Kondik.

We're going to do a minor rebranding for the mass market because CyanogenMod doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Another aspect of the Cyanogen model is that it frees hardware focused companies from worrying about the software. Big names like Samsung and HTC can afford to employ extra software developers to build their custom user interfaces, like TouchWiz and HTC Sense, but smaller companies don’t have the resources. Cyanogen is basically offering a custom Android build service for handset manufacturers. Talking about the Oppo N1 Kondik said, “it was a very straightforward way for us to really focus on the software without having to deal too much with the manufacturing side of it.” The opposite could probably be said for Oppo, it could focus on the hardware while Cyanogen worked on the software.

Ultimately Cyanogen aims (and needs) to coexist with Google and the Android Open Source Project. Without access to Google’s services most devices won’t sell, specifically in the West, and without the AOSP Cyanogen doesn’t have a code base. But maybe Cyanogen can offer viable alternative to vanilla Android and make a success of selling open source software.

What do you think? Would you buy a phone with Cyanogenmod pre-installed rather than say vanilla Android, as found on Nexus devices and Play Edition devices? Would you prefer Cyanogenmod over TouchWiz or HTC Sense? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.

  • Tanner Hoyt

    I hope they succeed in that vision. Google’s Android is great, but an alternative is always good to have. CyanogenMod is a safety net, ensuring that Android will never become fully closed-source.

  • TheGCU

    I would definitely buy a device with CM preinstalled, but the N1 wasn’t what I was looking for. I’ve got a Note 3, and if there was a Samsung-endorsed CM available, it would mean none of the lag of TW, none of the bloat, and the Samsung-specific stuff like the stock camera and S-Pen would all work 100%.

    I buy Samsung because I like the hardware, not TW. I buy Samsung hardware despite TW with the knowledge that I can install CM and still use the amazing hardware. I can only imagine how amazing it could be if the major manufacturers (Sony, LG, HTC, Samsung) offered their devices with either their own proprietary roms or officially supported CM roms. I don’t see them doing that anytime soon, but it would be amazing if they did.

    • kukubird010

      Good luck with your battery life with the Cynogen ROM. No one does better in their ROM than Samsung in optimizing their phone battery life. Even Google Edition Samsung S4 have poorer battery life than the original Samsung TW.

      • TheGCU

        My battery running CM doesn’t last quite as long as with the stock Samsung. That said, I don’t have a problem with battery life. Also, the CM rom is very new; as the build improves, so will battery life. It won’t match the stock rom for longevity, but that’s not the biggest deal. I’m willing to trade a bit of battery life for no more TouchWiz. And that’s very relative anyway. Everybody uses their phone differently. I don’t play games very much, so my battery lasts quite a while, unlike some of my friends, who complain that their batteries dies so fast.

        • MasterMuffin

          Note 3 has so big battery that a little drop in battery life means nothing when you get extra performance!

  • windchiller

    CM ROM is very overrated LOL….in latest GSMArena review confirmed it’s reduced 30% of the battery performance of the Oppo N1 as compare to the original ColourOS ROm by Oppo. Who say Chinese OEM ROM is poor???

  • Joel Phua

    I think CyanogenMod is the way to go. Although Google is the main provider, an alternative that offers an Android++ experience is really good. What I’m worried about is if Google finds that CyanogenMod is competition and decides not to approve devices with CyanogenMod of worse still; not allow CyanogenMod to use Android as a base OS. I don’t know the technicalities of the statement I’ve made, but I have faith that Cyanogen Inc. will find a way through such an issue and we’ll always be able to enjoy the CyanogenMod experience. What I would like is if CyanogenMod would be based on Android but modified to form a Cyanogen OS, as Android is based on Linux but is not Linux. Like if they’d release a “Cyanogen 1.0” or something of the like…

    • TheGCU

      I’d be careful advocating a Cyanogen OS. That’s where Google could really start seeing them as competition. As long as they’re just tweaking Google’s product, they’re not really stepping on anybody’s toes. Android is open-source, and they’re free to play with the code as they choose, and people are free to use their code if they want. And in a way, Google can point to CM and say this is exactly what is so great about Android, the customization, the tweaking, etc. But if they have their own OS, now they’re competition, like iOS and Windows, and a target.

      • wat

        Google should have dropped the cash to employ all the top people writing code for CM and not waste it all on random companies.

      • Joel Phua

        I see what you mean… Didn’t think of it that way…

    • MasterMuffin

      That would be very stupid.
      A) forks of Android aren’t allowed (for example the alibaba thing that was taken down, though Amazon’s fork is amazingly still alive (?))
      B) I know everyone hates this word, but fragmentation. Example: there’s already a problem with CM and kernels (kernels that work with AOSP don’t necessarily work with CM). And more could (and would) come
      C) Then Google would definitely see them as competition and anything could happen
      D) no :)

      • David Burrows

        Forks are “allowed” in that they are able to use the AOSP source, but forks (such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire) are not allowed to have access to the Google Core apps or the Play store.
        One of the rules of playing with Google in the Android space is that you do not use a fork of Android. If you do make a device running a fork, Google reserves the right to deny you access to their core apps and the Play store for ANY of your devices.

  • Nice

    I would give it a try. I don’t mind stock Android especially KitKat but I do miss some of the features on my GS3 like being able to control the vibration. I think stock still needs some features to be standard to really make just right.

  • VN

    That would be the best of both worlds. I love cyanogen not sure what battery issues people talk about. It may be the nightless use more battery but once you tweak location settings the battery is lasting more than the lg ROM.
    I’d never be able to use tw or lg version of android. I have not tried other OEMS. If cyanogen was not available I’d probably use vanilla android.

  • A.M

    I use to mess with CM until I found PACMAN & other cause they have more features that’s what I like with other ROMS but CM is for the newbies or people who like a plain simple os with minor features in tho glad to see CM making big leaps

  • Mike Reid

    I don’t need a CM phone, the same way I don’t need a GPE phone.

    I decide on the phone and variant, often influenced by what ROMs are, or are expected to become available.

    I buy the HW based on price and other criteria.

    Then I decide which ROMs I want to flash.

    When a friend or relative asks my advice, who is not a flashaholic (who won’t need my advice) I might recommend OEM, or Nexus or GPE.

    Unless/until CM has a successful commercial track record I appreciate, I feel more comfortable recommending Nexus or GPE.

    I DO wish CM well; it’s the most flashed ROM on my phones. But selling phones (or whatever) is new for them and well beyond their so far successful mission in creating popular 3rd party ROMs.

    IMO, CyanogenMod should rebrand as “CM” or something that contains “CM”. Familiarity and all that.

  • hiro

    i would love to see the proprietary drivers released – and more support for things like Replicant OS

    question – why is it that hardware manufacturers don’t make their drivers public ???

    • Making their drivers public is like giving the competition the keys to the kingdom.Samsung could easy take from Snapdragon, and vice versa. You end up with a noncompetitive market.

  • Rick9

    I finally got CM11 (Kit Kat 4.4.2) running on my Sprint S4 and love it. I would definitely buy a handset without all the bloat ware and next time intend on doing so. If it already has CM on it all the better.

  • Brendon Brown

    Is there a way to get apps from the Google Play ?

    • stucrmnx120fshwf

      I think that’s what the article said, since they validated with Google, but anyone else pipe in, if you have more specifics.

    • Blup

      Just download the Google apps from the CM website and install. The set includes Play

  • stucrmnx120fshwf

    This might take a while, I’m now running a Nexus 5, KK 4.4.2, around 6 months ago, I got sick of my carrier, getting in the way of my GNexus getting updates. So I tried Cyanogen Mod, after watching the YouTube’s, I bricked my phone, got a dumb phone. Now the GNex was getting old, so I thought it was worth the risk, the Nexus 4 then got a hundred dollar discount, as the Nexus 5 was near. I got about half back on my N4 / 16 GB, got the N5 / 32 GB, so it really only cost me $A 150. What I like about Cyanogen Mod, is they’re near to the latest build of Android. If there was a phone with CM built in, I’d look at it seriously, as long as updates were fairly simple. I like the way they’re going to have Google Play, the easier it is the better, the more cooperation with Google and the hardware makers the better.

    Stu dip elect comp tech net admin spec, coming soon 7″ UD 4k, 14 nm, 64 bit, 4/6 GB GRAM, 128 GB flash tablets. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on special for $ A 7.99 in HD, in Google Play Movies, have fun y’all.

  • phuongot
  • Eddie O’Connor

    Would I buy one? No. I WOULD BUY LOTS OF ‘EM!…This is EXACTLY the kind of device I’ve been searching for!….cannot wait to have one of these in hand….(hopefully they come in black as well?…LOL) as for the renaming of the brand…what about something that’s “almost” like an android?…so that would leave….”robot”….”CyBorg”….a facsimile of life…aka “Faxx”…….doesn’t really matter WHAT they call it…it works and it’s open!….