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Newly formed company must tread lightly lest it anger Google

CyanogenMod (aka "CM") -- originally the creation of one man, Steve "Cyanogen" Kondik -- is far and away the most widely used replacement firmware on the market for the world's most commonly used operating system, Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android.  Today, Mr. Kondik's company -- which bears his handle -- is thriving, with 17 developers split between offices in Seattle and Palo Alto.

I. Cyanogen Becomes a Company

This week announced the completion of a round of venture capital funding.  The Verge reports that they raised $7M USD -- an impressive showing for such a small firm.  Most of the funding came from Benchmark Capital and Redpoint Ventures.  

These are some marquee name backers.   Benchmark is a prominent Menlo Park, Calif. VC, who has funded many industry greats including Facebook Inc.'s (FB) Instagram, eBay, Inc. (EBAY), the now defunct Palm Computing, and Red Hat Inc. (RHT).  Redpoint -- also in Menlo Park -- helped fund Juniper Networks, Inc. (JNPR), Netflix, Inc. (NFLX), and Right Media, an advertiser that was acquired by Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO).

First introduced in May 2009 for T-Mobile USA's G1 smartphone (the first major Android phone) -- Cyanogen grew via support for the XDA Developers community.  Today, official numbers show over 8 million users, but that's only the minority who opt to send feedback data to Cyanogen.  Cyanogen CEO Kirk McMaster estimates the true user base is around 16 to 24 million users, according to an interview he gave to The Verge.

Cyanogen Mod
Cyanogen's Jelly Bean (10.0) release [Image Source: Cyanogen Inc.]

He comments, "There’s always been lot of talk around who’s going to be the third dominant mobile computing platform.  Windows Phone would probably be number three now. If you look at what our actual user base is, we might be equal to or greater than that."

The founder of the company, Steve Kondik, says that Cyanogen's wild growth has been fueled by carrier profiteering.  Carriers are slow to upgrade users' phones, hoping to force users into early upgrades.  But replacing your Android's firmware with Cyanogen -- which receives regular updates and supports nearly all North American Android smartphones -- cast a monkey wrench in those dastardly plans.

Mr. Kondik blogs:

Google completely decimated an entire sector of industry by releasing Android as open source, and CM became something of an underground revolution fighting against the players in that industry still hanging on to the old-hat idea of trying to sell you a disposable new telephone every couple of years while charging a premium for trivial things. We know these aren’t just phones anymore, they are powerful machines with immense capability, and we could make them work however we wanted.

II. A Simple Installer -- Free at Last

The CM developer ring didn't transform into a bonafide company until December 2012.  Now, with funding backing it, Mr. Kondik promises a huge leap forward, which will make CM a true solution for all users, not just enthusiast hackers.  He writes:

The biggest obstacle we wanted to get out of the way is the hideous installation process. Today there are more open and unlockable devices than ever, but they all have their quirks and wildly different installation procedures. We've done our best to document the process for every device we support on our wiki, but it is still a daunting process for mere mortals. This is not sufficient—installation needs to be easy and safe. This is a great deal of complexity to manage when you are talking about almost a hundred different devices, but we decided to tackle it.

Cyanogen team
Cyanogen's team. [Image Source: Cyanogen Inc.]

Cyanogen Inc. will be releasing a Play Store app that makes unlocking most common Android devices a trivial click through an installer process -- rather than the current installation guides which can involve 23 or more meticulous steps.

CM Installer CM Installer 2

CM Installer
Cyanogen's upcoming two-step installer solution [Image Source: Cyanogen Inc.]

As to how the firm is going to make money, Mr. McMaster tells The Verge, "If you’re the default OS on a device and you have 50 million users, there are a lot of ways to make money.  It’s not just about building a user base. It’s about building great services you can’t get anywhere else."

One possibility is that Cyanogen Inc. could cut a deal to set the internal search end to the highest bidder by default.  Such deals net Mozilla and Opera Software ASA (OSE:OPERA) tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

The real question is whether Google -- which has always toed the line between full-on rebel coders like CM and the carriers it's partnered with -- will continue to tolerate CM, which it has never officially commented on.  As The Verge points out:

But what if some of those services get blocked? Core Google apps including Gmail, Chrome, and Maps aren’t open-sourced parts of Android — they’re part of Google Play Services. Using Google Play Services requires that a device be certified by Google. Firmware modifications like Cyanogen bring devices into a gray area where the original phone may have been certified, but the modified version could fall outside Google’s guidelines.
Tread Lightly
[Image Source: Hip Genius]

Thus Cyanogen Inc. might care to "tread lightly" as Walter White would say, lest Goole pull a page from Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) playbook and try to stomp  it out.

Source: The Verge

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RE: This is sooooooo cool
By troysavary on 9/18/2013 10:45:20 PM , Rating: -1
Again, rather than disputing the point, both reclaimer and retro resort to name calling as soon as they perceive a slight to their precious Android.

I picture you two as the "Leave Android Alone!!!" guys.

Why should users have to mod their phones to get simple OS update, anyway? Blackberry, iPhone and WinPhone all get updates straight from their respective companies. Why is Android the only one at the mercy of carriers?

I don't have an iPhone, thank you. Just because I can recognise the strengths of a platform, doesn't mean I am some sort of disciple. It is possible to see good in the other guys once in a while. Your bland fanaticism to all things Android is starting to make Mr. Swash look like an impartial observer.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By retrospooty on 9/18/2013 11:15:59 PM , Rating: 3
"Again, rather than disputing the point, both reclaimer and retro resort to name calling"

I apologize for the insult but I did it because you commented on an issue referring to another thread where you obviously didn't bother to read and understand what you are talking about in either. You just completely missed everything discussed in the other thread and confused custom ROM with rooting and installing malware (which BTW, was an issue on Android 2.x not anything recent.) Its clear you don't get what any of these things are, what is required and how its used, and who abuses it.

"Why should users have to mod their phones to get simple OS update, anyway?"

They shouldn't have to. Device updates are a weak point for Android OEMs and Android in general. Fortunately there are options. Google editions, Nexus and if those aren't available In a phone you want, there are custom ROMs. Custom romming isn't made for the non technical or for the victim mentality whiners. Its an option for those that choose it.

" Just because I can recognise the strengths of a platform, doesn't mean I am some sort of disciple. It is possible to see good in the other guys once in a while."

I totally agree and do see good in all platforms. To me Android is simply the best for me right now. If something tops it, I dump it immediately.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By troysavary on 9/18/2013 11:45:38 PM , Rating: 2
Isn't the point of making a one click mod installer available on Google Play to make it accessible to the non-technical?

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By retrospooty on 9/19/2013 12:04:57 AM , Rating: 2
That would be an upcoming feature, but it still needs to be rooted and the boot loader unlocked, so its still not for the meek. The events in the article above represent a lot of great things that are coming. Potentially a separate OS fork, and hardware as well (which would be easy).

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By Sazabi19 on 9/19/2013 8:53:53 AM , Rating: 2
You can say that again, took me 2 days to find and finally get working a proper way to root my Bionic on 4.1.2 JB. I had to DL a Linux VM image and a VM manager. Then I had to import the machine, turn it on, connect my phone (make sure it was on debug + a media device, not storage) and then I had to attach it to wifi on the same network (couldn't do it at work). Once I got that done and the in the VM I had to connect to my machine via a preset wifi shared area that let it know I was really the one trying to do this. Rooting took a few minutes and the device finally restarted. That was just the root, not installing SafeStrap (easy), following the directions to save my image, move to a new area, partition it, and then start to load CM. It wasn't until a day after I found out how to get core Google apps (play, maps, gmail, etc...). You have to flash those on yourself, as the article states, they are not free to just give out. I am running CM 10.1.3RC2 and it has been fairly stable the whole time (a few restarts/battery pulls) but overall it has been much faster and I no longer have my data randomly cut out on me. This gave my Bionic new life. I would love to get a VZW Nexus 5 though if they actually get 1 this time around.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By nafhan on 9/19/2013 1:40:45 PM , Rating: 2
It sounds like you're saying: "technical people like wasting their time." Does that really make sense to you?

Technical people tend to be efficient, and a one click installer from a trusted source is more efficient than the current Cyanogen install process.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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