Cyanogen’s Savvy Strategy

Cyanogen, Inc. logo

So I’m running CyanogenMod on my Nexus 5—v11, snapshot M6 to be exact. Despite what I may have wrote back in January I’m not really missing the Google Experience Launcher at all;  the very similar Trebuchet suits me just fine, and I don’t really need three different ways to get to Google Now.

But I’m not here today to review CM11. Instead I’m going to do a bit of a brain dump on Cyanogen, Inc. as a company, and how they fit in with the inevitable future for Android devices.

The Promise

Back in 2010 when I managed to get Debian up and running on a Nokia N900 the future for all smartphones immediately became clear—they would inevitably end up as commoditized black boxes, just like desktop PCs. Only a year later that future became a reality with my first successful installation of CyanogenMod (a bit behind the curve). I need to reiterate what an amazing thing this is. Don’t like Touchwiz on your Samsung? Replace it—with CyanogenMod, Paranoid Android, AOKP and a universe of other available custom firmware. Don’t want Google? No problem, just don’t flash the gapps zip!

The Problem

This works out great if you’ve got a Samsung, HTC, or Nexus. Even though the first two ship with locked bootloaders, they’re popular enough to warrant attention from the XDA crowd, who not only find workarounds but often author one-click solutions for PCs, and sometimes even web browsers.

But what if you’ve a device that isn’t so popular? Well, unless your l33t Android h@X0ring skillz are up to par you may well be out of luck.

The China Problem

There’s a lot of potential in the rising tide of cheap and cheerful Android hardware from China. Among the most well-known Chinese handset manufacturers is Xiaomi, who’s MIUI ROM runs on other handsets too. But using MIUI isn’t a great experience—at least it wasn’t for me the last time I tried it. The built-in browser always defaulted to Weibo for search, and because the OS was based on an older version of Android the data partition on my phone got really messed up.

Cyanogen Gets It

The genius of the Cyanogen team is they’ve identified an opportunity to use their software to bring Chinese hardware to an English-speaking market. It may only be two companies for now—Oppo and OnePlus—but any Chinese phonemaker wanting to sell their wares in America would do well to partner with Cyanogen, Inc. In this scenario everybody wins: phone-makers sell more phones, customers get access to more affordable hardware and CyanogenMod reaches a wider audience.

And if those bootloaders are unlockable, then the Android modding community wins too!