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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: Best of luck
By bug77 on 9/19/2013 8:50:59 AM , Rating: 2
Not really. I have the Desire S. HTC has given me ICS, while the latest stable CM available is 7.2 (GB). This was a popular, medium device back in the day.
And that's ok, they can't be expected to do the work many manufacturers refuse to do. But it doesn't change the fact that if you buy a phone, there is no guarantee CM will support it.

RE: Best of luck
By retrospooty on 9/19/2013 10:23:12 AM , Rating: 2
The desire S is a 2 1/2 year old mid range phone. No not every single Android phone from all time is available in "official release" form, but most high end phones are, and most newer phones as well. Expecting such an old mid range device to have CM10 is an extreme stretch.

BTW, get a new phone FFS. ;)

RE: Best of luck
By bug77 on 9/19/2013 10:35:20 AM , Rating: 2
My first point was that CM is at the mercy of manufacturers: they simply don't have the drivers required for later Android releases.
My Desire S is just an example where even when the drivers are available, CM still doesn't offer support. Need another example? Let's look at the HTC One: Zero stable releases.

BTW, I don't need another phone and the metal case is worth a million bucks. It would be nice to have the smoothness of JB or SELinux, but from a functionality point of view, it does more than I need.

Let's be clear, for an enthusiast community, they did an amazing job - I don't dispute that. Now that they have financial backing, I hope they'll have the clout to address many of the problems they previously had and come up with more magic.

RE: Best of luck
By retrospooty on 9/19/2013 10:50:30 AM , Rating: 2
"My Desire S is just an example where even when the drivers are available, CM still doesn't offer support"

Point taken, but its still a really old mid range phone... The One is still fairly new and they do have ROM's all the way up to release candidate - Here...

"Let's be clear, for an enthusiast community, they did an amazing job - I don't dispute that. Now that they have financial backing, I hope they'll have the clout to address many of the problems they previously had and come up with more magic."

Yup, keeping fingers crossed on that.

RE: Best of luck
By bug77 on 9/19/2013 11:08:15 AM , Rating: 2
its still a really old mid range phone

It was only a couple of months old when ICS was released and it was about 15 months old on JB's birthday. Now it's old, but it wasn't when I was looking for support.

RE: Best of luck
By retrospooty on 9/19/2013 11:18:24 AM , Rating: 2
OK. So that's your 2 1/2 year old mid range phone's story. They still support most Android devices in some fashion or another. Nuff said.

Here is a better article with more info on CM's future plans.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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