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If Lineage OS install numbers are anything to go by, OnePlus is the new Nexus

With the demise of Nexus and CyanogenMod and the rise of OnePlus and Lineage, we're seeing the first signs of what a post-Nexus world looks like.

Published onJanuary 24, 2017

It wasn’t long ago that any new custom ROM would primarily be installed on Nexus devices. After all, Nexus was the smartphone family of choice for modders, developers and others with a penchant for deviating from the firmware norm. Indeed, part of the Nexus’ allure was the ease with which it could be modified. But times have changed – both CyanogenMod and Nexus are dead – and it looks like OnePlus is well on the way to being the new Nexus.

The current state of custom ROM development

Lineage OS builds have only been live for a few days, but, as with most custom ROMs, Nexuses were among the first devices to be supported. Nevertheless, it is the OnePlus One that has seen the most installs of Lineage OS so far, with more than double the installs of the next most popular phone.

The OnePlus One has seen the most installs of Lineage OS so far, with the nearest Nexus in 14th spot.

The Xiaomi Mi 5 is the next device on the list but the third place holder is another OnePlus device: the OnePlus 3. The OnePlus 2 even makes the top ten.

The absence of official Nougat for the OPO and OP2 explains at least some of those installs, but the OnePlus 3 runs 7.0, indicating Nougat isn’t the only draw here.

As for Nexus devices, the Nexus 5 – which missed out on an official Nougat update – is in fourteenth spot, with the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X in eighteenth and nineteenth place.

Again, availability of an official Nougat build is part of it, but at least in my experience, flashing new Nexus ROMs rarely ever had anything to do with Android version. It was a simple case of “have Nexus, will flash”. Considering the historical status of the Nexus line as the go-to device for modders, this feels more like part of a larger trend.

So what else could it be? Is Oxygen OS so crappy that OnePlus owners are clamoring for something – anything – to save them from an awful software experience? Maybe, but I doubt it. When Oxygen OS is stable it’s as good a ROM as that found on any other phone. Or have Nexus owners given up on flashing new ROMs just for the sake of it? Is stock Nougat so good that practically no Nexus owner wants something more?

It goes without saying that in the last few years custom ROMs have declined in popularity as Android itself has improved. These days, custom ROMs are much more about getting an updated version of Android than they are about plugging the holes left in Android by Google (just don’t get me started on Google’s shift to proprietary Pixel features).

These days, custom ROMs are much more about getting an updated version of Android than they are about plugging the holes left in Android by Google.

Sure, plenty of folks are still rooting and flashing zips, editing build.prop files for simple tweaks or running Xposed modules. But the number of committed custom ROM users is far smaller than it used to be. This trend will likely only be exacerbated by the demise of CyanogenMod, the best known and most reliable of all ROM options.

But there’s another factor to consider here: in recent years Google has been gradually shutting out the modding fraternity with the introduction of things like verified boot and forced encryption. While these are not deal breakers, they do throw a spanner in the works. And nowhere is this shutdown more evident than in the Pixel, the most iPhone-esque of any Android phone yet built.

At the same time as Google has made Android less mod-friendly, OnePlus has remained just as supportive of community-based modifications as it has always been. Oxygen OS is far from perfect, but it is still better than stock Android was several years ago when Nexus ROMs were at their peak. The difference now is that it feels like Google doesn’t want you messing around with Android, while OnePlus absolutely does.

It feels like Google doesn't want you messing around with Android anymore, while OnePlus absolutely does.

In a post-Nexus world, Google is no longer responsible for the producing the reference device for Android customization. While custom ROMs for the Pixel do exist, I don’t know any Pixel owners running one. Everyone I know seems perfectly happy sticking with the official firmware with which their Pixel came. So far so iPhone, but I also know far fewer Nexus owners running custom ROMs than I used to as well. But maybe that’s just me.

These days, a OnePlus device is arguably a better bet for anyone keen on tinkering with their Android phone.

Although serving the needs of Android customization fans was never a stated goal of the Nexus program, Nexus devices were the natural choice for anyone interested in modifying their phone. That situation no longer applies. Now, I’d argue, a OnePlus device is a better bet for anyone keen on tinkering with their Android phone.

A lot of folks claimed the Nexus mantle had passed to OnePlus when the Pixel was announced. While that made for a nice headline at the time there was no empirical evidence to back it up. Sure, OnePlus was the natural choice as the heir-apparent to the Nexus line, but now we’re beginning to see real evidence of that transition in effect. If CyanogenMod belonged to the Nexus generation, then Lineage already looks to be the spiritual home of OnePlus.

Do you think OnePlus is the new Nexus for modders?

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