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Is the commercialization of Cyanogen bad for indie ROM development?


I love custom ROMs and alternative ROMs. I’ve been using custom ROMs since I got my first Android smartphone six years ago or so. In fact I’ve been cooking and flashing custom mobile phone ROMs on other platforms since even before Android. There are a handful of benefits from flashing custom ROMs: added features and functionality, improved or optimized performance, and of course the cool factor with being able to customize your device.

A favorite benefit of mine would be the removal of bloatware — apps and software introduced by device manufacturers or carriers that benefit their business, but often result in poor user experience. For example, I don’t really like Samsung’s TouchWiz and its successor TouchWiz Nature UX. And so I would usually flash the latest releases of Cyanogenmod whenever possible, to get the vanilla Android experience, or at least something that’s not as heavily-skinned and modified as TouchWiz.

Of course, this comes with a few downsides, too. Some experimental ROMs would come with bugs and instabilities. Some might result in data losses. Incorrect installations might also result in bricked devices. And then there’s the possibility that custom ROM development would just cease or slow down.

Take for instance Chameleon OS and Android Open Kang Project (AOKP), which are lauded to be stable third-party ROMs with enough customizations to satisfy power users. Cyanogen Inc, which recently raised several rounds of venture funding, hired AOKP founder Roman Birg and ChaOS founder Clark Cheff. While both developers have said they will continue their work with their respective custom ROMs, development on these has not been as active as they were previously.

In short, Cyanogen is hiring its competition. No longer small fry, Cyanogen now has enough clout to partner with device manufacturers to offer its ROM as the default out-of-the box Android for consumer-facing products. And it’s hiring the best talent, even if it includes hiring developers who had been building ROMs on top of Cyanogen or

Is it bad for competition, then? Arguably, independent ROMs like AOKP, ChaOS, Carbon and others do have cult followings. But Cyanogenmod leads in terms of numbers, with more than 10 million installs worldwide. The next most popular candidate is AOKP, with 3.5 million. This pales in comparison to the more than 1 billion Android activations. With partnerships with OEMs and brand manufacturers, however, like Oppo and OnePlus, Cyanogen is likely to get a broader mass appeal. Even better if it gets to partner with bigger brands.

As Cyanogen picks up the best developers out there, will this be the death of indie ROM development? Or will others pick up the torch and continue building great custom ROMs for both popular and lesser-known devices?


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