Cyanogen Inc recently announced that they are shutting down the company and their entire business. One would think that this would not affect many people, as Android ROM CyanogenOS only comes bundled with very few smartphones, a large part of which are Chinese. This announcement however, has far reaching implications on the Android custom ROM scene as well. Since its inception, Cyanogen Inc has provided much of the infrastructural and technical backbone of CyanogenMod, a community built flavour of stock Android.
Even though CyanogenMod is a seperate and independent project, it still heavily relies on development infrastructure and resources of Cyanogen Inc. such as the over-the-air update system, backport developers, the automated software build bots, the website, and even download server.
CyanogenMod was a non-profit, community-driven, open-source custom Android ROM started by Steve Kondik. It picked up in popularity extremely fast, and with robust development support and a fast expanding user base, it quickly became the pillar of Android community it is today.
In September 2013, Cyanogen Inc was set up, with the aim of commercializing the project, and selling it under the name of CyanogenOS, while leaving CyanogenMod to continue as a community project.
This decision sparked a lot of controversy, with the same undertones:
CyanogenMod wouldn’t be what it is today without its contributors. If you’re able to run CyanogenMod on your device today, it might not be only thanks to Steve, Koushik or Ricardo. There are hundreds of people behind them who pushed many patches, and enabled many devices as a hobby. Have you ever heard of them?
-Guillaume Lesniak (developer)
Developers felt that their contributions would not be recognised, and that the entire venture was violative of the community driven spirit of the product itself.
OnePlus and the Downward Spiral
Formation of the company continued, however, and it made big waves when it signed a worldwide exclusivity deal with OnePlus, which was at the time creating big news stories with its Never Settle campaign for the OnePlus One.
The CEO of Cyanogen, Kirt McMaster, also went on to sign an exclusivity deal for the Indian market with an Indian phone maker, called Micromax. This was clearly violative of the deal earlier struck with OnePlus.
Micromax went on to file an injunction in an Indian court against OnePlus, claiming that OnePlus was in violation of Micromax’s exclusive right to sell phones loaded with CyanogenOS in the Indian market. The Delhi High Court granted the injunction, thereby temporarily banning OnePlus phones from sale in India.
The Court was simply performing its job of upholding the law, however, as examination revealed that because of the way that the contracts were drawn up, OnePlus could only resolve any disputes with Cyanogen in California courts.
The Indian court was only taking into account the Micromax-Cyanogen contract, granting Micromax exclusive use of CyanogenOS in India, which it upheld and told OnePlus to cease the sale of CyanogenOS devices in India until the issue was settled in California.
OnePlus and Cyanogen settled out of court, and OnePlus began baking their own Android flavour pretty much immediately after, and stopped pursuing the right to sell devices running CyanogenOS in India.
As a result of Cyanogen’s sudden backstab, OnePlus came out with their Hydrogen OS and Oxygen OS.
The fallout from this was severe, with even Kondik publicly blaming McMaster for the disaster. After all, who would want to do business with a company like that?
Microsoft, and More Trouble
In 2015, it was reported that Microsoft had invested in Cyanogen. It was speculated that this might be part of a strategy to create an Android version that worked well with Microsoft platforms.
In April, Cyanogen publicly announced a “strategic partnership” with Microsoft, and started to integrate Microsoft apps and services into Cyanogen OS. This move however, further alienated its users.
Good Night, Sweet Prince
Most everyday users were probably never even aware of the existence of CyanogenMod. To anybody who was ever even the slightest bit interested in customising their device, to set it up to run just the way they wanted it to, according to their purposes, preferences and needs, however, it was probably the first name they would come across.
In all the years that Android ROM development has been around for, CyanogenMod has always maintained a constancy in the scene. Many ROMs have come and gone, some have even come back again. Sure the purists might say that CyanogenMod got bloated and less innovative after the release of CM9, but they were committed to ensuring one thing – bringing more devices newer versions of Android; giving them new leases of life years after their OEMs thought they’d be useless. CM was a success story from day 1, and not many have been able to replicate its success. Many have tried, but none have succeeded.
Even saying that does its role in shaping the developer community a great disservice. It was astonishing how tightly run its gerrit was. Almost all ROMs were dependent on CyanogenMod releasing its device trees – and most ROMs still are! Beyond that, it kickstarted a lot of features that are now taken for granted, as they were adopted by Google and put into stock Android, or implemented by the myriad OEMS that bundle their own distributions of Android. These include incredibly basic features today, like notification toggles and quick reply for SMS.
CyanogenMod’s device trees were almost always authoritative. Even if a particular device has a better tree available through Omni or AOSPA, there’s always a whole lot of cherrypicking done, to and from the CyanogenMod one.
It was widely regarded as the epitome of open source software, and its easy to see why. 2009-2016, nearly 8 years of work done by a party of community members, corporate bosses, developers and forum admins. No other project would have filed petitions to Samsung and other OEMs to release drivers for their devices, no other project could have kept the various older devices from becoming hot-running ones, with no performance and no battery life., because, to top all of its accomplishments off, where it excelled most, was in its ability to breathe fresh life into devices as they got older.
In fact, just a few days ago I saw new Bluetooth Low Energy capabilities added to the Galaxy S3 trees. The Galaxy S3! It’s over 4 years old now, positively ancient, and by today’s standards, most would consider it no better than a rock.
Even if a particular device tree was left dormant for months on end, that didn’t mean development for it was dead! If it was still receiving nightly builds for the current release, it was also receiving the new functionality!
CyanogenMod eventually got so popular that it started to influence people’s device buying decisions – myself included. That is the legacy of CyanogenMod.
The Future of Cyanogen
The legacy of CyanogenMod stays intact, safe and open-source, but the project itself has suddenly lost its development ground. This marks the shift to going completely community-driven again.
It will take some time to revive and then achieve a healthy level of development. Organizing the community and structuring the development is key. Financial and infrastructural support will also be extremely important. You can read more about how to contribute to the project on their page here.
It was the passion project of so many developers, from all over the world, who put in countless hours into something they liked, without any returns to themselves. It was a true community effort. Good night, sweet prince.
All is not doom and gloom, however, as the project is only dead in name and not spirit. The guys behind the original project have already begun to take the necessary steps for survival in the wake of the shut down. The entire project has been rebranded to LineageOS, and their new website can be found here.