If you are a long time user of Android like some of us then you know that the platform we have grown to love ardently also has its flaws. And they are not just one or two flaws. They are many. Almost none of those have to do entirely with Android as it comes out of Google labs but most have to do with the modification that the mobile OS goes through in the hands of carriers and manufatcurers before Android finally lands in the hands of consumers. Things like lack of updates, lack of a consistent unified experience, unoptimized apps, bloatware and the like have made phandroids the laughing stock of iOS device users who have a rather smooth unaltered experience on the other side of the fence. What if someone could fix all that? Yeah, that someone has always been there and for a while now has only been the CyanogenMod team and today they announced to the world that they are done being underdogs, they want to be up there. With Google (Android), Apple (iOS), Microsoft (Windows Phone) and Samsung (upcoming Tizen).
CyanogenMod has existed as a third party as far as matters Android are concerned. It has for the last few years been synonymous with the term “custom ROM”. For most users the term custom ROM means CyanogenMod. Save for Samsung users who have their own community with ROMs and mods revolving around TouchWiz, the rest of the world only has two good options as far as custom ROMs are concerned: CyanogenMod and MIUI. CM, as it is fondly known, is the most popular and most widely used. MIUI (developed by Chinese phone maker Xiaomi) tends to be limited to just a few flagships whereas CM is available for your $100 LG L3 and also for that $600 LG G2. Tablets, phablets and anything mobile that runs Android definitely has a touch of CM in the wild. That is how popular it is. With such a background you will definitely understand why there is both excitement and question marks over the company’s (yes Cyanogen is now a company not a four team membership outfit popular only to a few geeks and XDA Developer forums subscribers) move to take their modding efforts a step further and make a fully fledged operating system to compete with the likes of Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. I don’t know if we will also say it will be competing with Android since it will be based on Android anyway.
Sometime this year I took a look at all the mobile operating systems that will be taking the fight to Blackberry (BB OS) and Microsoft (Windows Phone) to challenge them and maybe topple them as the third and fourth mobile platforms. So far we have seen Windows Phone make some strides and obviously though still in bad shape, Blackberry has been making some baby steps including the release of a bumped up Z10 in the name of the Z30. Is there space for Cyanogen to be a third force alongside iOS and its mother Android? Maybe. The numbers seem to be on their side. CyanogenMod has at least 8 million active users at the moment (including yours truly) and keeps on growing. Add to that number the many who flash custom ROMs frequently and you have a huge user base. Bigger than that of Windows Phone. Things appear rosy on paper but will they be the same when that new operating system goes live? Only time will tell but for starters there are some questions to ask. Will Google allow this? Yes they have no issues with heavily forked versions of its devices. Amazon does it with its Kindle tablets, Xiaomi does it with its devices like the Meizu MX3. Then again devices running Android must be certified by the search giant and Google has to authorize such things like its apps (Chrome, Play Store, Maps etc). Android is mostly open source but those Google add-ons in the form of apps and other services aren’t. Never forget that this will be something coming out to directly compete with Android as we know it and threatens the relationship Google has with OEMs and carriers.
On the other hand for those of us who love a smooth uncluttered Android, CM’s move is a God-send. Cyanogen is now focused on making the process of installing its ROMs less tedious and is working on a standard simple click and install process. The current method of installing CM is not hard but has some learning curve to it. When you’re making something you hope to get in the hands of millions of non-geeky people who will not want to screw up their expensive devices then you have to do this. It will be interesting to see how everyone reacts to this news, particlularly Google and the device manufacturers who are fond of locking down their devices and having restrictive bootloaders to prevent flashing of custom ROMs. One of the major selling points of Android is that it is widely customizable. In this case this strength may either turn out be something better for the whole Android platform or a turning point. Maybe the fish has come back to feed on its master. After all that is said who wouldn’t love that near-stock Android feel on their devices while having some cool CM apps like Apollo music player and the Focal camera?