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How Cyanogen plans to make Android even more open

Florence Ion | Jan. 15, 2014
We talked with Steve Kondik, creator of CyanogenMod, about the company's ambitious plans to sell a phone preloaded with its "more open" version of Android.

The N1 had its own outstanding bugs, but for the most part the team was able to get the work done without hitting any walls. "Oppo was awesome about providing [code] so that we could do our own software implementation as open source and allow the rest of the world to tinker with it too."

Cyanogen is also partnering with OnePlus, a nascent startup that has committed to developing CyanogenMod-specific hardware. Kondik believes that it's the beginning of a "perfect storm" for the company. "There is the old saying that it takes 10 percent of the time to get 90 percent finished," wrote Kondik. "We've been so focused on going forward that our 10 percent was quite a challenge, but now we've got it and we're ready to do something that has a broader appeal and that is truly focused on the end user."

The road ahead 
Cyanogen has always been an advocate for open software, and though the philosophy has been well received among a niche group of hardcore enthusiasts, it won't necessarily translate over to mainstream users. Consumers already feel betrayed because of the fact that companies have so much access to their data and the idea of an even more open mobile OS could scare them off.

Marketing is another issue: Oppo is a manufacturer based in China, while OnePlus is a newcomer. For Cyanogen to really gain market appeal in the United States, it has to gain some clout with the carriers, while also focusing on distribution and market share in emerging markets. It would be just as beneficial if it partnered with a bigger hardware manufacturer, such as LG or Samsung, but it's unlikely that either company would support such a venture.

Throughout our back-and-forth correspondence, Kondik reiterated that the goal was to make "the hard things easy, adaptive, and beautiful. Our goal is to appeal to a broader audience while still having the same appeal to geeks like ourselves."

For now, the special-edition Oppo N1 remains geared for the Chinese smartphone market, though other projects are in Cyanogen's pipeline. "We're going to do a minor rebranding for the mass market because CyanogenMod doesn't exactly roll off the tongue." 

Kondik can't reveal too much about what lies ahead, but he isn't short on enthusiasm. "Our plan is to stay true to our roots," he added. "We have some very strong long-term concepts that we'll be revealing soon enough."


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