CyanogenMod founder Steve Kondik recently made a surprising announcement. His creation, favored custom ROM of millions, was going legitimate. Kondik and several other developers, including Koushik Dutta, founded Cyanogen, Inc. Something that began as a side project is becoming a multi-million dollar Silicon Valley startup.
A lot of changes are coming to CyanogenMod, and the user base isn’t happy with all of them. How will this affect the ROM? Will we still get to access to the great custom firmware we’ve come to enjoy? How aggressively will the company monetize its creations?
Kondik and company recently took to social media and his own website to explain, offering answers to the pressing questions.
What Happens to CyanogenMod?
First, the CM devs want to keep producing high-quality software with “no junk.” They list their goals for the future in an announcement on CyanogenMod.org, saying they want to “stay committed to building the features our users need.”
Development will march on. Kondik mentioned in his Reddit AMA the CM team plans to add more features like syncing Settings preferences and Airplay mirroring, as well as previously announced changes like CyanogenMod Accounts.
In the future, we may even see faster development of new CM versions. If Cyanogen Inc. can partner with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), it could potentially qualify for early access to Android firmware updates.
Google hands out the Platform Development Kit to OEM partners two to three months in advance so they can start working on updates for their devices.
“We have at least one OEM partnership in the works,” Kondik wrote in the AMA. “There will be an announcement next week regarding our plans there.”
This means we could start seeing devices with CyanogenMod pre-installed. Imagine buying a new phone that’s already running the latest version of CM. It’s an Android fan’s dream.
Are You Guys Selling Out?
Cyanogen Inc. received a $7 million investment from Benchmark and Redpoint. Kondik quit his day job to start this company. Clearly, they’re looking to make money.
“Monetization isn’t an immediate concern and our investors and Benchmark and Redpoint feel the same,” Dutta said. “CyanogenMod has the potential to become an enormous platform play, and to do that, we need to foster and grow the ecosystem.”
Translation: Do like every other tech startup. Go for users first, and find ways to make money later.
“Eventually there are innumerable paths to monetization once we reach economies of scale: licensing our software/services to OEMs, building hardware, creating secure enterprise solutions, etc,” Dutta said.
This doesn’t sit well with some members of the Android community. Everything in CyanogenMod is free and open-source software, built by a community working together to help each other. Monetization and profits are antithetical to that.
“A lot of people I’ve seen have been concerned about the development of Cyanogen Inc. and the road to corporatism,” wrote one Reddit user.
Kondik reassured users that the team will remain dedicated to open source, but CM-specific products may be proprietary and for-profit.
“The core of the project… will always stay open source,” Dutta said. “But obviously, as a company that has financial needs, employees to pay, Cooper treats to buy, and Cyanogen-babies to feed, we will need to make careful decisions about what we open source and what may become proprietary.”
Translation: We quit our day jobs for this and expect to be paid for our work. Even programmers need to eat.
What about all the people who contributed to CM for free? Is it fair for a select few to profit from their work? Shouldn’t they get some compensation?
Kondik thinks otherwise. Instead, he’s paying back the community by hiring eight contributors. Everyone else is out of luck.
What Does Google Think?
So far, nobody knows how the folks at Mountain View will take this. Cyanogen Inc. is taking Android in a new direction that may not necessarily align with Google’s plans.
CM and Google sometimes fight. Remember, CyanogenMod excludes Google apps in its ROMs because of that little cease-and-desist incident in 2009.
The CM team is unconcerned. “No need to worry,” Kondik said. “We love Google services, and so do our users… we feel we are an ally to Google, not a competitor.”
The former head of Business Developments and Partnerships at Google, Tom Moss, now works at Cyanogen Inc. on the board. Having an ex-Googler can’t hurt.
CyanogenMod is the most popular custom ROM for good reason. It offers near-stock Android with no bloatware, no custom skins, and no spyware (remember CarrierIQ?)
CM instead opts to include deep customization options and subtle improvements on stock Android. Quick reply for Messaging, better quick toggles, lock screen swipe shortcuts, and a battery percentage are just a few ways it betters stock Android.
CyanogenMod is also one of the few major players in mobile to take privacy seriously. The developers open source their code so everyone can check it to make sure it’s secure.
They’re also working on features like secure messaging between CM users, and Privacy Guard, a nifty permission manager that lets you lock down rogue apps.
In a world in which the NSA has managed to finagle its way into almost every tech company, a more secure OS could be exactly what privacy-conscious users want.
The CM team has big plans for the future. If it has its way, the mobile race will have two and a half horses – Android, iOS, and CyanogenMod.
The developers have some major bridges to cross, though. They’ve got to simplify the installation process, which Kondik called “hideous.” No disagreement there.
They’re also got to convince the community that CyanogenMod will remain faithful to its open-source roots.
I admit I’m rooting for them. Here’s hoping Cyanogen Inc. takes off and brings the joy of better-than-stock Android to the masses.