The scrappy, underground, open source team is now a full-fledged startup, and the CyanogenMod team has big plans to take their project to a whole new level. The first step along the way will be a new tool that allows anyone to effortlessly install CyangenMod on a supported device.
If you’re familiar with the CynaogenMod project, there’s a good chance you’re kind of a tech geek (which is understandable given the website you’re currently reading). CyanogenMod is one of many open source projects created with a desire to bring new features and updates to Android phones long after their manufacturers and carriers have decided they don’t need further updates. CyanogenMod has grown explosively over the last couple of years, with millions of users and dozens of supported devices, all able to use the latest version of Android. The most impressive thing about the CM project has been that so much was accomplished in spite of these individuals having day jobs and actual lives.
Recently, Steve Kondik and Koushik Dutta, along with fourteen other talented individuals, abandoned those day jobs in pursuit of a dream that will excite Android fans all over the globe. As of today Cyanogen Inc is officially a startup with one goal — to make CyanogenMod even more incredible.
In a letter addressed to all of the users, contributors, and fans of the CyanogenMod project, Steve Kondik explained the situation as best he could. Shortly after he left Samsung he teamed up with Koushik Dutta to try and build a better CM. With the help of longtime contributors to the project — including Chris Soyars, Ricardo Cerqueira, Abhisek Devkota, and others — the company was formed. Sixteen people split between offices in Palo Alto and Seattle are the start of a company geared towards creating what they are confident will be the best aftermarket OS for Android phones.
Benchmark Capital and Redpoint Ventures are backing the newly formed company, giving them the resources necessary to see what happens when you take a project from something done in your spare time to something done full time.
If you’ve been paying attention to their recent progress, you’ll see that the CM team has already started to show the results of these efforts. Starting with the series of updates that werecodenamed “Nemesis”, and including recent efforts in secure communication and remote device administration, the team has been hard at work to create the features they feel their users need.
Next up is making CyanogenMod available to as many people as possible, regardless of how technically savvy they are. Right now, the most difficult part of using CM on your phone is installing it. To address this, there will be an installer app available on the Google Play Store soon that will allow users the ability to install without any technical know-how. The app will rely on a desktop component, so you’ll run the app and connect to your computer. When the phone reboots, you’ll be running CyanogenMod. (Check out the gallery above to get a better idea of what this will look like.)
Obviously it’s not as simple as just saying you are a company. You have to make money somehow, and the current everything free model of CM is clearly not how to make money. So, what are they going to do? Charging for CM isn’t likely to be a winning strategy, after all. When I asked Koushik Dutta this in a recent interview, he explained that the focus right now is on making everything rock solid, not monetization.
“We’ll be working hard on things like Voice+, CM Account features, and security for a little while. I’ve been working on AirPlay mirroring and screen recording features that will make their way into CM at some point. There’s plenty of things in the product pipeline already, and we’ll be releasing new features as quickly as we can. The only limitation we have right now is with the number of engineers and designers we currently have. As we hire more people and build this company, we’ll be able to work on so many cool things.”
In his letter, Kondik made it clear that he had no intention of closing source for CyanogenMod or allowing the project to stagnate. He stands resolute in his belief that there is a was to support both the company and the community, and his goal is to make sure that is where CM goes. The community surrounding this project is significant by any scale. With over 7.6 million active users and hundreds of contributors supporting dozens of Android phones and tablets, this startup is coming out of the gate with a huge audience ready to offer feedback and criticism on any of a thousand things. To be able to look at that audience and explain that you now have to resources to work at a pace that is likely an order of magnitude greater than ever before is bound to be incredibly exciting to just about everyone.
In a brief interview with Steve Kondik, he reaffirmed that the next few months will be all about strengthening CM and making it something users of any skill level can take advantage of. This includes flexible update schedules and a more user-friendly OTA update system, so more technical users can still take advantage of nightly builds while casual users can choose to update bimonthly or later if they like. Kondik explained that the position CM is in when it comes to building out new features right now is all about exploring what is possible, taking advantage of the unique position they are in. They don’t feel the need to monetize every step of everything they do like carriers or manufacturers, so there’s incentive to apply intelligence in situations that just creates better overall experiences.
Being able to witness the growth of this project into a company has been fascinating. The CyanogenMod team came together from all over the world in support of an idea that they believed in, and that idea grew and audience of millions who in turn encouraged them to take things from casual and fun to what could become the first widely used aftermarket OS on a smartphone. Much in the same way that some users buy a Windows machine from their local electronics store and install Linux on it as soon as they get home, the same could very soon be true for smartphone and tablet owners of every skill level. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of Android and everything that exists under that name.
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