There’s a dichotomy in the smartphone world. On the one hand, you have the tightly-wound iOS, an operating system that always looks and feels the same. On the other, you’ve got Android, the open-source operating system that can be many different things to many different people. In fact, last year iOS and Android were found to make up 96 percent of the smartphone market; and don’t forget that Windows phones exist in that remaining 4 percent.

These days, it’s quite easy to forget that CyanogenMod used to be a major player in the Android market — to hobbyists and the modding community, it still is. Its parent company, Cyanogen, Inc., had grand plans to take over the Android world with a more commercial version of the community-built ROM. There was a time when Cyanogen was nearly as synonymous with smartphones as Android, at least among more hardcore folks, but that time has long since passed.

Cyanogen’s popularity grew quickly and the company started talking a pretty big game. In retrospect, it seems that many of the company’s ambitions have failed to come to fruition. The fate of the company as a whole has become quite questionable. In light of recent developments and several years of disappointments, let’s take a look back at the history of Cyanogen, Inc. to answer some important questions: Why haven’t the company’s promises come to fruition? What is the company doing today? Where is it going in the future? And where did it all go wrong?

See also:

Cyanogen OS vs Android: what’s the difference?

July 27, 2016

A strong, community-oriented start

Before there was Cyanogen, Inc., there was only CyanogenMod. Even if you never used CyanogenMod, you at least know the name. It’s the Android-based operating system that first emerged in 2009. Shortly after the T-Mobile G1/HTC “Dream” was released and became a huge success, a community of developers began making modified versions of Android when they exploited a weakness in the OS that granted them administrator, or “root”, privileges.

It wasn’t the first modified version of Android to be released, but it was definitely the first to gain such immense popularity. As a result, a growing number of developers and hobbyists rallied around CyanogenMod, contributing their skills and knowledge to create something that many would come to prefer to stock Android.

With CyanogenMod, mainstream Android users could enjoy the stability and full power of Android with the customization and added features that the couldn’t get from stock Android.

In just over a year, CyanogenMod evolved through five different versions. With each new version came advanced features, including gesture controls, tethering, and a growing library of supported devices. Meanwhile, CyanogenMod gained its own identity with a unique launcher and reputation for offering levels of customization that weren’t available on Android.

CyanogenMod also changed the way that people viewed custom Android ROMs. Previously, custom ROMs were popular to enthusiasts, but less so among mainstream users. With CyanogenMod, mainstream Android users could enjoy the stability and full power of Android with the customization and added features that the couldn’t get from stock Android.

Google in the crosshairs

For a while, that’s all there was to it. CyanogenMod gained a group of top-tier developers, including co-founders Steve Kondik and Kirt McMaster. These top-level developers would make the final decisions when it came to adding or changing any facets of CyanogenMod, but it otherwise remained an operating system “by the people, for the people”, as Kondik would say.

Cyanogen Inc. raised $80 million from a number of well-known investors, including Twitter and Qualcomm

In September 2013, Kondik announced Cyanogen, Inc., a venture-funded company created for the purpose of commercializing — or, more accurately, monetizing — CyanogenMod. This coincided with the launch of Cyanogen OS, a more commercial version of the community-driven firmware that could come preinstalled on new devices. Sure enough, the acclaimed OnePlus One launched in the spring of 2014 with either CyanogenMod 12 or Cyanogen OS on board, depending on where you were located. This had the effect of raising the profile of Cyanogen, Inc., and the success the company experienced in its early days seems to have bolstered the confidence of Kondik and McMaster, the latter of whom would go on to make some pretty bold claims.

An interview with Kirt McMaster — who’s no longer the Cyanogen CEO — by Forbes staff writer Miguel Helft was published in the April 13, 2015, edition of the renowned magazine. In the interview, McMaster made the now-infamous claim that he intended for Cyanogen’s mobile operating systems to serve as a “bullet through Google’s head.” In hindsight, McMaster was likely fired-up after having raised $80 million from a number of well-known investors, including Twitter and Qualcomm; and this doesn’t account for the close partnership Cyanogen would begin with Microsoft. So it might have seemed reasonable to proclaim how the popular CyanogenMod and its sibling Cyanogen OS would soon upset the mobile phone industry in spite of such humble beginnings. However, it certainly didn’t play out the way McMaster believed it would.

The OnePlus One shipped with Cyanogen OS out of the box, but the relationship wouldn’t last.

A curious case of misdirection

It feels like ages it’s been since McMaster was talking bullets through heads, but that Forbes interview was printed less than two years ago; meanwhile, that bullet has very clearly missed. Perhaps it feels like the interview was so long ago because it’s been at least that long since Cyanogen was featured in a positive news headline.

After the launch of the OnePlus One, Cyanogen and OnePlus had a gruesome and very public breakup. First, there was the issue of the OnePlus One being sold in India where Cyanogen-based ROMs had an exclusive deal with Micromax; no other OEMs could sell devices running Cyanogen software in the country. There were also some really personal insults being flung between the two companies, but primarily from Kondik and McMaster toward OnePlus. According to McMaster, OnePlus built its brand and success off the back of Cyanogen, Inc. In fact, he even went so far as to say that OnePlus would’ve been lucky to sell a single device in international markets if it weren’t for the more-recognizable Cyanogen brand.

While the dissolution of the Cyanogen-OnePlus partnership would appear to be a minor speedbump, Cyanogen OS has launched on only a very small number of devices by the likes of YU and Wileyfox. (Meanwhile, OnePlus has struggled to meet the demand for its OnePlus 3 and 3T devices. Go figure.)

While the dissolution of the Cyanogen-OnePlus partnership would appear to be a minor speedbump, Cyanogen OS has launched on only a very small number of devices.

Surrounding the debacle with OnePlus, it became apparent that Cyanogen has big plans, but didn’t know how to implement them. In recent years, there have been constant rumors about ongoing layoffs from within the company and many Cyanogen developers feeling they have little to no job security.

In a change that comes too little too late, McMaster was demoted from CEO of Cyanogen, Inc., at which time former COO Lior Tal stepped into the position. Kondik, too, was removed from the management board and it seems that the number of days he has left in his own company are quite numbered. He recently posted on the private CyanogenMod developers’ group on Google+, during which he admitted to much of what we had been suspecting. Specifically, Kondik said that Cyanogen, Inc., was extremely mismanaged, McMaster’s behavior and comments were a source of frequent turmoil for the company, and the executives could never seem to agree on the direction of the company.

According to Cyanogen Inc co-founder Steve Kondik, McMaster was unhappy and a source of conflict within the company.

According to Kondik, McMaster was unhappy in the position and a source of conflict within the company, making it a difficult place in which to work. In fact, Kondik goes on to allege that McMaster’s behavior was an attempt at sabotaging his own company. Kondik doesn’t explicitly state whether he’s leaving Cyanogen, Inc., but his departure seems to be implied. In his soliloquy, Kondik laments that he made poor decisions, trusted the wrong people, and got screwed over as is “the Silicon Valley way”. It sounds as much like a goodbye letter as an apology and justification, and Kondik goes on to express his uncertainty at what his next steps might be. While I’m sure he’d like to maintain some semblance of ownership of CyanogenMod, it would be difficult to untangle the community-created operating system from the rest of the company.

Kondik’s statement comes in the wake of what was already a rather difficult week for Cyanogen. Just a couple days ago, we learned that Cyanogen, Inc. would be closing its Seattle offices at the end of the year. Of course, this had been rumored for some time with sources on the inside claiming that the company will be moving to apps rather than continuing development of the operating system that was its namesake.

Where will Cyanogen go from here?

At this point, the future of Cyanogen, Inc. is pretty uncertain. With CyanogenMod being largely in the community’s hands, it’s likely that CyanogenMod will continue is much the same way as it always has. The problem, which Kondik mentioned in his statement, has to do with what level of ownership the company has over the Cyanogen/CyanogenMod branding and trademarks.

Recently, the company has started pushing its “modular OS”, which appears to consist of breaking Cyanogen OS down into individual components, or mods, that OEMs and developers can mix and match or incorporate into their own operating systems. Having spoken to members of the PR department in recent weeks, it seemed the company was extremely excited about the prospect of OS modularity. However, given what insiders have alleged, it’s likely that Cyanogen will abandon operating systems altogether if this modular operating system doesn’t work out.

See also:

Is CyanogenMod about to become Lineage Android Distribution?

December 13, 2016

Now I’d like to hear from you: What are your thoughts on the situation with Cyanogen, Inc.? What do you think we might see from Cyanogen in the future? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Dane O'Leary

Dane has been part of the Android Authority team for about a year now. Besides writing for Android Authority, he's been featured in countless other print and web publications, including Millennial Magazine, eZine Articles, Magnetic Magazine, The Geek Parent, Michael's House, and many others. Dane maintains his own website, too.

In addition to consumer technology, Dane is a lover of traveling, web development, and artisanal coffees. Follow him on social media and check out some of his Android Authority articles below.

    
  • OneOfOne

    start up 101: do not allow douches to run the company. get experienced manager or burn and die

    • The Focus

      Well it’s community driven so one way or another it’ll find a way over all these!

    • mobilemann

      is this a joke? they died because google wasn’t nearly as open as they claimed they were. That’s their giant beef with them.

    • Ongaku

      pretty much.. that’s basically what I thought when he said a bullet through Google’s head way back when… why would you say something like that to the company you based your os off of.. Google is still there platform as cyanogen is a version of Android.. they should be thanking Google. dumb decisions…

  • Griffen Hicks

    it should have never been a company just a ROM

  • They didn’t have Courage™.

    • The Focus

      No they had too much! Too much!

      • Ongaku

        exactly.. to make that bullet through the head comment.. just too bold and mean for no reason..

  • rarinrob

    McMaster sounds like a classic toxic employee

    • The Focus

      Kind of a person who lost his mind with pride! Bullet through Google’s head…., yet based on Android of Google! 😒

      • Ongaku

        EXACTLY!! why not thank Google and try to become a a full hired on branch of Google or something.. don’t attack the hand that’s feeding you..

      • BoneMan

        “Musically, we (Milli Vanilli) are more talented than any Bob Dylan,” announces Robert Pilatus, 24, with very little prodding. “Musically, we are more talented than Paul McCartney. Mick Jagger, his lines are not clear. He don’t know how he should produce a sound. I’m the new modern rock ‘n’ roll. I’m the new Elvis.”

        Pride knows no genre, but it always ends the same.

  • John Jotham

    partner with nokia

    • Kunal Narang

      I would instantly buy a CM based Nokia device.

  • Goblin Shark

    One Plus has had trouble meeting demand since day one. How does their incompetence impact Cyanogenmod’s dysfunction?

    • balcobomber25

      Cyaongoen needed OnePlus more than OnePlus needed Cyaongen. OnePlus was a commercial success because it was the first cheap premium flagship available to western markets. Abandoning OnePlus was a huge mistake for Cyanongen.

      • The micromax deal was a big fail in tech history.

      • Goblin Shark

        I agree that it was a mistake for CM but I don’t know if they had a choice because of their contract in India. But calling One+ a commercial success? That’s amusing!

        • balcobomber25

          OnePlus has been a commercial success….

          • Goblin Shark

            No, it hasn’t.

    • “International” demand via artificial limitation of sales.
      China has so many OnePlus devices (without CM) on sale in just every tech malls. They run on Colour OS (from parent Oppo).
      Oppo has no problem to scale up production so it wished, but that would eat into Oppo’s line.
      That’s another story for another time.

      • Goblin Shark

        I like trolling the One+ fanboys.

  • retrospooty

    This was an odd one, but from my point of view using it on very mainstream common devices (a Droid 3, then GS3, then LG G2, then LG G3) Cyanogenmod used to be awesome. They would release solid builds and do them regularly. They had features that stock and OEM Android didn’t have… As the years went by and stock Android got better and better, Cyanogenmod got slower to release, and buggier. It was more trouble than it was worth the past few years, so I never bothered to even try on my GS7. Just as the need for it was lessening, the ROM’s got worse and worse… In the middle of all of that downhill slide, they formed a company and put an asshat in charge of it… Recipe for fail if you ask me.

    • I too abandon my OPO. The new rom just had so much issues. happy with my Honor 8 now. EMUI is great!

      • Andy Wirya

        If you still have your OPO, try OmniROM or CM14.1. You should give them a try.

        • cool, will try that. thanks.

        • shockandAWD

          I second CM14.1 suggestion. My OPO has it and it’s been the best one yet.

    • blindexecutioner

      CM is great for when the manufacturers stop supporting your phone after 18 months to 2 years.

      • retrospooty

        I suppose so, if you are keeping a phone that long. It seems to me though, that the development took a nosedive several years back. Slower and slower to release and buggier and buggier as the years went by. That was my experience with it anyhow. It’s almost as if the best developers got bored somewhere between 2013 and 2015 and stopped caring or just left.

  • Grant Ding

    Where did it go wrong? The point where the dickwad CEO thought that Cyanogen could essentially overthrow android?

    • That One Guy

      Exactly!!

    • mobilemann

      ? android is meant to be forked. Android would be much better if he tried harder.

      • Grant Ding

        Android is meant to be improved, but that asshole sure as hell can’t do it.

        • mobilemann

          They wanted android to actually be open to be fair. Google lying caused all their problems. Those are the facts. But you guys don’t care about tech, let’s not pretend you’re not just fucking cheerleaders for your own brand. I can do more on an iphone than 90% of the children here can do on a PC.

          • Grant Ding

            Fair enough, but I feel like claiming that cyanogen could supplant Android is not a good example of companies beating others at their own game. CyanogenMod was great on the oneplus phones, but creating an entire

          • mobilemann

            absolutely, i think they were definitely bitter about a lot of stuff with google, including how much they let samsung and the OEMs (and carriers) get away with.

          • The Duke of Melyd

            Android on the early days 1.1+ was relatively open , but device makers and networks was so lax about updates ,manily security one Android had to be closed off , turned into modules if you must. The core was still open, the issue comes doesn’t to they wanted the plays services to be more open. It was once but was taken advantage of ,bit the likes of samsumg , so Google had to take control off it, 1. To patch things via the play store , as OEMs and networks wouldn’t, and 2. Play services acted like a carrot /stick , of the OEMs wasted it, they had to fulfill some things .

            Cm wanted to have and eat their cake.
            I can recall them saying we don’t need it, we will build our own ecjosytem with ms and others . That was the day I knew it wouldn’t end well.

          • Mattmasic

            Someone dropped you as a baby

          • fredphoesh

            what rubbish.

          • mobilemann

            please feel free to enlighten me? All the exciting stuff google’s doing is closed source. Sorry if you’re fanboying out.

  • gwu_william

    good modder but not good in having business relation

  • Andy Wirya

    Knowing that Oneplus didn’t have its own OS development and yet still signing an exclusivity with anyone else in any country and openly stating that Oneplus owe it all to Cyanogen are signs of the infamous stupid f*cking asshole CEO syndrome.

    Cyanogen Inc, deserves every bit of all the consequences and I do not respect Steve Kondik & Kirt McMaster at all.

    To Steve Kondik & Kirt McMaster: Good luck with your dick, for it seems to me that dick-measuring contest is what matters the most for both of you.

  • Dick Bailey

    Too bad. I went through the invitation fiasco and bought the OPO, because of Cyanogen OS. The ugly break-up certainly tarnished Inc’s image and probable gave pause to any company considering using the OS. Maybe they work a deal with LeEco. 😋

    • Airyl

      Can’t, LeEco sells devices in India.

      • Dick Bailey

        That was “tongue in cheek” joke because of LeEco’s financial problems.

  • It actually shows most people do not care about ROMs if it’s not bundled with good hardware. Cyanogen did a deal with micromax, whose hardware was underwhelming.

  • Daggett Beaver |dBz|

    It went wrong with Kirt McMuffin.

  • gmo8492

    If they didn’t allow someone as incompetent as McMaster to run the company and maintain their relationship with OnePlus they would not be in the situation they are right now. At the first sign of large stacks of investors money these guys fell completely apart, they failed to maintain a healthy or even stable relationship with any smartphone vendor. Loyalty and trust is key in any business, they failed to have that and I’m not surprised that their arrogance would have eventually led to their demise.

    • The Focus

      McMaster was mindless enough to call Cynogenmod as a bullet through Google’s head, it’s not even a separate OS, but based on Google’s Android… How mad he had been!

      • JPLoureiro

        Money & Power, it drives some people crazy.

    • The Focus

      By the way, OP3 and 3t use Oxygen OS? Is that another community driven rom like Cynogenmod? Or one plus’s own ROM?

      • JPLoureiro

        It’s their own ROM tailored by some great devs that have brought us Paranoid Android and the likes.

        • Chuck Jones

          Not really, all the original Paranoid devs. left many months ago. The last few released builds of OOS were from the communty, not Oneplus.

          • JPLoureiro

            Even better! I miss the times when I would install a bunch of ROMs on my Galaxy S1 via TWRP. The community builds would often take into account your own ideas… Good times.

  • Arieos

    I bought my zuk z1 cause it had cyanogen OS out of the box in the end it turns about to be the worst part of this phone. Buggy software, no security patches anymore while the phone wasn’t even one year old yet (last one was from june), never received the update to marshmallow.

  • s2weden2000

    they s0ld out…

  • Gaspar Inostroza Pérez

    I’ll tell you when it went wrong. It was when Cyanogen went from a ROM built by community devs to a company that took all the hard work of all the people at XDA and then forgot about them. Only a few of them went then on and got hired by the company. This is when Omni ROM got created, member?
    This company had their heads so up their butt they even tried to get independent from Google at some point lol.

  • ustill812

    As the name grew in reputation so did some of the founders heads.

  • Dalibor Pencik

    that was a time…3-4 years ago. A lot of custom roms CM based, AOSP based… now if you look into xda threads for some models its only about MODs of stock roms and about CM roms. I think the glorious days of ROM developing are ending. The company which dont release source code or dont let you unlock the bootloader are the second ones who are killing this comunity. Look to Alcatel xda forums, HUAWEI forums, ZTE forums…. only some unofficial CM 13 builds..thats all. :-(

    • The One

      It’s also dying because there are simply too many devices on the market to develop for these days. The XDA device list has grown from a hand full to THOUSANDS over the past few years. The talent pool of capable devs can’t possibly produce ROMs for all these devices – especially when so many devices get replaced 6 months to a year later (looking at YOU Sony!)

    • Aman

      Agreed, back when Stock ROM’s were just plain terrible and feature-less,there were tons of custom ROM each with their own distinctive looks,feature set on XDA.Now,all roms are stock with little to no new features and they all look alike.I remember flashing MIUI,CM on my Galaxy y…Those were the days!!

  • blindexecutioner

    Money. I am sure it comes down to money. Once someone wanted to start monetizing it the bad things started happening.

  • taylot1459

    didnt add anything for a buy. google play alternative, proper device support

  • sonybru

    It did its job. It forced the hardware makers to refine their user experience. Whenever they get comfy again, cyanogen will become relevant again.

    • Aman

      This.

    • mobilemann

      good point

  • Rohit Nair

    So they got in Bed with Microsoft and ended up with Syphillis.. :P

  • Chuck Jones

    The only reason I bought the Oneplus One was because of the Cyanogen OS.
    Now every model since have been a crappy failure from Oneplus.
    The main reason that the OP3 was stopped being produced was because it wasn’t selling.
    (except to the mindless Oneplus Fanboys)
    Oneplus is really hoping the bump in CPU is enough to turn sales around with the OP3T.
    Raising the price to a mediocre phone is not helping sales either.
    Oneplus was known at first for it’s Cyanogen O.S., it’s high specs., and low price
    Now with it’s terrible customer support, miserable warranty support, buggy OOS, and it’s much higher price, they no longer can compete with real phone manufacturers, with real support.
    Not to mention they have NO marketing at all.
    Since OPPO is moving into the US and UK markets, I see the Oneplus fiasco ending in 2017.

  • Is Kondik really invested in Cyanogen? If so, if his heart is really in the development of a platform he can start with a fresh AOSP build and modify it from there. Back to basics is not a bad way to humble yourself. In fact, it would put a positive spin on the trainwreck that he was a part of.

    Silicon Valley is very forgiving. If you make the next best thing, you’ll get money tossed at you to push it out. It isn’t a swan song unless you want it to be.

  • VLC Fina

    It was dead the minute they backstabbed Oneplus.

    It was a stark warning to the commercial entities they tried appeling to: a Cyanogen customer is one they just haven’t backstabbed yet…

  • Neha Varma

    Base is Wrong! ie Android os itself is wrong then the above structure will also fail…

  • RISHABH Kr. Mahato

    cyanogen mod 14 and 14.1 even the older versions official versions both stable and nightly, don’t support file sharing system like es sender and xender or SHAREit. This is disappointing. And when on CyanogenMod 14.1 custom ROM official for my Redmi note 3 the earphone s have a noisy sound always coming from background. and sometimes the flashlight also doesn’t turn on in single click.
    followed every xda and aa forum but no answer.
    any help for this.!?

  • Random

    I agree entirely with what Steve Kondik alludes to in that what killed Cyanogen was McMaster. He was unqualified and the terrible combination of overconfident braggart fool.

    You do not need to dig through the “history” of Cyanogen to see this – just find the online webcast for the episode of This Week in Startups that featured him.

    He couldn’t even tell when Jason Calacanis was trying to give him a softball question, and he tried to present a really “swaggering” image of strength which he did not have the gravitas to pull off.

    He also could not even recall what words came out of his own mouth to maintain internal consistency – he went from bragging about Microsoft having great confidence in them (such as to put Cortana on Cyanogen) to being outright contemptuous of Microsoft’s abilities (in which case what value is there in the support of Microsoft that you bragged about?) – you can certainly have that opinion PRIVATELY, but you don’t go on stage and stab your “allies”/supporters in the back).

    It was pathetic. One can only imagine the long series of terrible decisions he must have been responsible for at the “helm” of Cyanogen. (that video should be required watching for people to see how NOT to present anything; it’s quite likely the story of Cyanogen should be a business school case study of how to drive a promising startup into the ground with terrible management).

    However, I am confident the “mod” itself will continue. If there’s any community that is not going to be “tied down” to a particular name/”branding”, this is it. Everyone who knows enough about CyanogenMod to be enthusiastic about it, is going to be able to follow Kondik + the developer community behind CyanogenMod wherever they want to take it, and whatever they want to name it. (Lineage is a good name :-)

  • Softwea Programa

    Sheez… Thieves have a great affinity for self destruction…. where did they go wrong?… is that even a valid question? If they were that brilliant.. they should just have created their own OS and compete.. this idea of stealing Android from Google annoys me a great deal… there is nothing brilliant about that. NOTHING!.. its what the Chinese have been trying to do for decades with their knock off everything… Its always the wrong way to great success.

  • The Duke of Melyd

    The day ms got involved in said it wouldn’t end well. I’m said I was right. However I’ve not rommed since my M8 , but had cm mod on all my devices bar the g1. I did have 1+1 which was great and got the WFswift to test, great device.

    But after the m8 it was obvious rooting now (then) had more negatives than positives, hence the move to the 1+1, but then Google eventually made a successor to the Nexus 1 with the 6p and now the pixel .

    So im Sad to see cm go away, but I’ve left the romming screen behind, and I didn’t like the noise about the direction CM Inc wanted to go. I suspect many felt as I do, hence this outcome.

  • Mattmasic

    I’m confused on why he would Bash Google when CM was pretty much stock Android with added features.. he acts like he created a OS from the ground up. Oh and surprise surprise CM is gone and offline. Nice try though

  • fredphoesh

    Perhaps the fact that Kirt McMaster is an arrogant asshole has something to do with it? His attitude certainly turned me right off CM.