When android had a bigger brother

The rise and fall of Cyanogen Mod

The updated logo of Cyanogen

or almost a decade now Android has pushed the forefronts of technological development and has evolved, dramatically enough that’s its significance is unfathomable in this digital era. Having the heart and soul of google, android comprises some of the most rudimentary features and applications which have made our lives easier and productive. But naturally there is always something bigger, faster and better than what meets the eye.

The origin story of Custom ROMs

The true essence of android is that it is an open source (i.e. the entire source code can be modified by anyone who is interested and google won’t mind). This code is effectively documented in a repository called the Android Open Source Project (AOSP).

So what this means is that anyone with the right “technical” skills can exploit this resource to build an entirely new android interface. These custom interfaces are commonly called custom ROMs, and they are notoriously famous for unlocking the true potential of android devices.

Visualization of why source code is gibberish to non-tech people

The rise of Cyanogen Mod

Cyanogen mod is a custom Rom which was amended from AOSP in 2009 by a small group of developers. This initiative gained a lot of traction and caught the attention of Steve Kondik who was a software engineer at Samsung. He eventually set up a company called ‘Cyanogen Inc.’ in 2013 with a goal to commercialize this operating system.

Creative bootnimation of Cyanogen

Over the years Cyanogen earned the title of being one of the most popular custom ROMs’ clocking at a staggering 50 Million users in mid 2015 and with a compatibility on 350+ devices. Statistically it was the most downloaded Custom Rom in the planet with over 60 million+ downloads.

Why do we need a custom ROM in the first place

To understand this we need to identify the restrictions offered by a company specific firmware. We are all aware of the fact that every major mobile manufacturer has a signature firmware of their own, some examples are Samsung Touch wiz and HTC sense. All these firmwares like custom ROM’s were built using AOSP.

Samsung Touch wiz and HTC sense

The first major problem is that these firmwares embrace the presence of bloatware apps for obvious “profitability” reasons. The problem arises because these apps are terribly optimized, and they enjoy draining battery and slowing system processes by constantly running in the background. This was a concerning problem, especially with devices having minimal RAM. Furthermore, it is also very common to spot duplicate apps gobbling storage space.

Most phones come with duplicate apps

The second issue was that most of these firmwares were not customizable. Utmost it could offer was to change the background wallpaper, icons and text colors. Adding new functionalities or hardware tweaking was simply not possible due to firmware limitations or compatibility issues.

These limitations were not sufficient to convince the dynamic needs of people in the long run, hence this is where the Custom ROMs play a major role as they override all the above restrictions and offer a seamless experience.

What did Cyanogen offer

Noteworthy Benefits -

  • Stable and fast OS
  • System apps can be removed with built in root access
  • Bloatware is completely eliminated
  • Enough customization to keep you engaged for years
  • Enhanced privacy (You can control what information is shared)
  • It’s completely free
  • Supportive and active community for troubleshooting and development
  • Effective RAM management for multitasking
  • Cross-functional integration of 3rd party apps and services

Most importantly custom ROMs offers you the chance to install newer versions of android well before they are officially launched or supported by the manufacturer.

Cross-functional integration with Cortana on One plus 1

Shortcomings -

  • Installation is a difficult and time-consuming process
  • Device warranty is void once rooted
  • Having unstable bugs is quite common
  • Tweaking hardware components beyond their capability leads to permanent damage
  • Improper installation can lead to bricked devices
It’s true !

To make it easier Cyanogen also launched a dedicated installer which automatically roots and installs Cyanogen on several supported devices. This approach was extremely simple and reliable. The traditional process was time-consuming as it involved installation of necessary files and flashing using a computer manually.

The interface of Cyanogen installer

Midlife choices

Due to its stellar performance in the android community and the increasing fan base, Google and Samsung tried to buy Cyanogen off. But instead of selling the firmware Cyanogen started producing commercial versions of its custom OS which was installed in some popular devices such as the One plus, Lenovo and Oppo. To be honest this was the time when the potential of Cyanogen was known globally for the non-tech community. It also gave the opportunity for people to experience this OS without voiding their warranties.

One of the first phones to run the commercial version of Cyanogen

Every story has an end

In 2016 Cyanogen stopped its services due to internal reasons. After years of tumultuous turnovers in the company, Cyanogen announced that the company would consolidate all of their efforts into a new project and would rebrand themselves as Lineage OS.

Logo of lineage OS

However, in present years the number of users of Custom ROM users have dwindled significantly due to the following reasons -

  • Mobile manufacturers have grown wiser and have polished their firmware to match user interest
  • Bloatware is either minimized or developed into more useful applications
  • Hardware capability is more of a deciding factor of quality than the software potential
  • Bootloaders are locked these days hence making it harder to install ROMs
  • Googles Safety Net feature restricts Custom firmwares from using their services, this is again a huge compromise for Custom ROM users

So in a nutshell we can say that Cyanogen played a very critical role during its developmental years. Having a modest beginning it provided something that other ROMs could not. It was also partly responsible for making “One plus” what it is today. Currently, Cyanogen still lives on, as its source code is extensively used to develop other ROMs. As for Lineage OS only time will tell whether it could live up to its predecessors expectations.

Kudos Cyanogen

A Mechanical engineer by profession and an ardent content writer by passion .

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