Android Open-Source Vendor Cyanogen Veers Off Google's Android Path

Built on Google's Android OS, Cyanogen aims to open the OS more for app developers, handset makers and users to give them deeper control and flexibility.

Cyanogen smartphones

Cyanogen, an Android open-source startup, just raised another $80 million in venture capital money as it works to expand its presence in the mobile handset marketplace and on more mobile phones around the world.

The two-year-old company created Cyanogen OS, which is based on Android, and is the commercial sponsor of the CyanogenMod open-source project, which itself began in 2009 as a personal project of Cyanogen co-founder and CTO Steve Kondik.

The latest influx of $80 million in Series C financing will allow the company to bring in more people and accelerate the development of its products, according to a March 23 company blog post.

What Kondik wanted to do with his 2009 experiment was to allow more developer and user controls over the basic Android operating system, while simultaneously seeking to avoid the bloatware, which many handset makers were adding to Android on their handsets, Vivian Lee, the vice president of marketing and communications for Cyanogen, told eWEEK.

"[Kondik] wanted a faster, cleaner user interface and that just wasn't shipping on devices" at the time, said Lee. By creating an open-source version of Android, it allowed Kondik to easily remove all the bloatware and apps that weren't desired. "A lot of device makers make it really difficult to remove apps."

Deeper device and OS customization is also available using Cyanogen OS, including everything from giving users the ability to change boot-up animations to fonts, wallpapers, buttons and more, as well as improved performance due to reduced app clutter, said Lee. "It was taking Android and making that a better experience," she said.

Another key benefit for users is that while newer Android versions only tend to support the latest devices, Cyanogen OS supports and continues to update more than 250 device models, allowing users to continue to use them while staying up-to-date with performance and security updates.

Cyanogen was formed as a company in 2013, a year after Kondik met technology entrepreneur Kirt McMaster in Seattle and they began talking about the possibilities of open Android platforms, according to Cyanogen's Website. Eventually, Cyanogen OS began to be preloaded on smartphones through commercial partnerships around the world. McMaster became the company's CEO.

"We're committed to opening up Android—by breaking down barriers that get in the way of innovation, by building a more open, level playing field for developers, and by enabling new interaction models and new types of user experiences that fundamentally change the way we think about mobile apps and services," McMaster and Kondik wrote in a March 23 post on the company's blog. "Ultimately, Cyanogen wants to give control back to users everywhere in far more meaningful ways."

The company is continuing its efforts to get its Cyanogen OS preloaded on more smartphones from myriad hardware makers. It claims that the CyanogenMod open-source project version has more than 50 million users in some 190 countries.

The company contends that its Cyanogen OS is the only truly "open" Android platform that device makers can customize to suit their needs, according to a recent eWEEK article. While Google's Android is also technically open source, Cyanogen argues that much of the Google platform is locked down because it requires its own services and applications to run on the operating system that hardware makers install on their devices. Cyanogen OS is a different take on mobile operating systems—one that the company hopes will appeal to more mobile device makers and buyers.