CyanogenMod’s New Raison d’Être

Google’s Android One Defines a Cause for This Alternative

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CyanogenMod, an open-source mobile platform based on Android, has been a niche build with some success as an “anti-Google” choice for committed users. But CyanogenMod has been receiving extra attention during the past few weeks thanks to several innovative devices, possible adoption by a major Indian smartphone maker and Google’s Android One initiative.

Oppo’s N1, a unique smartphone with a 13.1 megapixel rotating camera, is available in a CyanogenMod edition as well as a Google Android variant. Two years ago, we predicted that hardware would be available with a choice of operating system (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2013 and Beyond). HTC’s One M8 comes in both an Android and Windows version, for example. Yet the ability for consumers to choose their own platform is still relatively unusual. Providing CyanogenMod as an option indicates that Oppo believes there is enough momentum behind the platform to justify support.

In addition to the N1, the CyanogenMod-based OnePlus One smartphone has enjoyed success as the platform’s flagship product since earlier this year, and has gained a dedicated following. Yet CyanogenMod has remained a niche choice.

Google’s recent unveiling of low-cost Android One smartphones has renewed interest in alternative platforms, and currently CyanogenMod has emerged as the frontrunner of this pack. Indian smartphone maker Micromax is widely expected to release a CyanogenMod-based device, which would make it the largest manufacturer to do so. Micromax could establish CyanogenMod in India just as the smartphone market is booming. Somewhat paradoxically, Google’s ambitions to counter Android fragmentation with Android One could help drive the success of a parallel build.

The put things in perspective, at around 13 million devices, the cumulative total number of CyanogenMod installations is still relatively small. This is roughly the number of activations that Android currently enjoys per week. CyanogenMod’s relatively small scale makes it a potential acquisition target, and there have been rumours that Google and others have considered buying the open-source platform’s controlling entity. Google will clearly be weighing up the advantages of acquiring a current source of fragmentation for Android that appears to be gaining momentum.

CyanogenMod still has a long road ahead to reach the global mainstream, but with several flagship products, dedicated contributors and growing market awareness, it could hit a nerve in some locations in 2015.