Cyanogen, the company responsible for the commercialisation of CyanogenMod is to cease all operations by the end of 2016. There will be no further updates to the OS, no more nightly builds and no further security updates. Phones that run the OS, like the original OnePlus handset, will need to switch to the Open Source version of the OS.
The company had some success selling its OS to manufacturers like WileyFox and OnePlus that lacked the resources to build their own customised Android interfaces. And it’s true to say that the mod, in its early form, was the go-to build for people who wanted more features than Android offered in the Google build. Sadly, the most high-profile customer OnePlus pulled the plug and moved to its own build of Android called OxygenOS.
The open source project upon which Cyanogen was based can, and probably will, continue. The big problem it now faces is the same as any Android mod, namely time and resources. It’s hard to make money on mods, and with Android getting more and more capable every iteration mods are also less necessary than they were when Cyanogen first started out.
While continuing is a likely, it won’t be easy and the CyanogenMod team made a statement describing the shutdown as “[a] death blow”. It will certainly be hard to continue without resources and that leaves those who no longer have official support with handsets that won’t get security patches. This is a major problem, and many of those users probably won’t want to move themselves over to the open source version of the OS.
So is it a surprise we’re here? Not really, just last month Forbes Contributor Ryan Whitwam posted that the company was cutting back, reducing staff numbers and would ultimately close completely.
One of the most astonishing quotes I’ve ever read about Cyanogen was right here, on Forbes, back in 2015. It came from Kirt McMaster, CEO of Cyanogen, and he said “We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head”. This was everything a soundbite needed to be, crass and attention grabbing. Sadly though – and I did mutter this to myself at the time – it was nothing more than an empty threat.
The problem is, it’s hard to put a bullet in the head of a company which makes the thing you based your product on. Cyanogen was nothing without the Android Open Source Project, which is the unrestricted version of Google’s Android OS. Usually, it’s packaged without the Google Play Services which make Android such a powerful proposition. It’s hard to turn this into a workable version of Android unless you can source an alternative app store too. However, Cyanogen did manage to make a deal with Google that allowed it to package its services along with the OS it sold to third-parties.
One thing is clear though, it’s really hard to beat Google at its own game. Cyanogen was a product that offered Android phone owners an alternative to the heavily customised UIs of their phones. But since, Google has released devices like the Pixel and Samsung, LG and Sony have all paired back the level of customisation they add to devices – partly in response to Cyanogen and other mods.
Cyanogen gave us a lot of good stuff in the world of Android phones. We should thank them – certainly the open source project, of not the incorporated company that will fold soon. It’s possible to argue that this OS made everything better in Android. Who knows, perhaps even Google was paying attention?