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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.

"There are two goals here," began Kondik. "We want to kind of spread the idea that it's okay to change the OS on your phone and the software that your phone runs. That should be the norm, not the exception."

He later added that he hopes consumers can learn to trust their technology again. "We are open source and we are users building things for users. It's easy to see what we are doing. Nobody has any idea what's happening behind the scenes on some of these devices. Having the ability to maintain control of your data is empowering."

Kondik also hopes to ease concerns about having open-source software on a device. "CyanogenMod often gets a bad rep about stability because we do nightly builds that are available to everyone, and there is also an enormous number of 'unofficial' CyanogenMod builds out there that have zero quality control." Kondik stressed that changes to its release process over the next few months will help solve that problem.

"A lot of the reason why we're doing this is because many segments of the whole smartphone scene have just become sleazy...We're trying to fix that situation. We're trying to really build something that is about the user."

A phone that's all your own
Because Cyanogen wanted to have control of both the OS and the hardware, it partnered with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Oppo Electronics to build its first handset. Oppo strongly supports the custom ROM scene.

"Oppo has their own ColorOS, but they also like the diversity of what's happening in the aftermarket," explained Kondik. Oppo contacted Kondik right after Cyanogen had closed its Series A funding. It was then that the two set out the blueprint for collaboration. 

Rather than release an entirely new line of handsets, Cyanogen convinced Oppo to market a specially branded version of the existing Oppo N1 smartphone with CyanogenMod loaded onto it. "It was a very straightforward way for us to really focus on the software without having to deal too much with the manufacturing side of it," said Kondik. The N1 sells for $600 unlocked, and, as an added bonus, users can freely "flash" between CyanogenMod and the usual ColorOS. 

Putting together this package was a new challenge for the Cyanogen team. Previously, they had worried only about releasing free code for their loyal followers, who are all hobbyists. But since Oppo is selling the handsets for profit, Cyanogen had to ensure that the finished product was flawless. "There's lots of edge cases that you have to take care of," said Kondik. "In the custom ROM community people are a little more tolerant to get the most bleeding edge thing on their device, but when you're trying to ship a real product you've really got to nail those edge cases...make sure things don't crash."


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