To counter the closed iPhone model, Google chose to make Android an Open Source project, which meant that anyone could take Android Operating System, modify it, improve it, extend it, and potentially build a $100 Million company around.
The first companies to modify the Android OS were carriers. Firms such as HTC and Samsung did not feel like the user experience of Android was good enough for their customers. So they used the Open Source Android product and modified it for use on their handsets. These modifications started with custom home pages, enhanced apps, additional features, and the drivers for their hardware.
The general consumer generally liked the carrier modifications, but as Android advanced and the out-of-the-box “Google Experience” became better, technical enthusiasts preferred not to be locked in with the carriers and looked for a way to get rid of all the modifications and use Android the way Google intended.
Like most great things CyanogenMod (pronounced sigh-AN-oh-jen-mod) started out as a simple “hack” of Android by a group of developers who wanted to offer an alternative installation of the Android OS.
Cyanogen stripped out the proprietary pieces of Android that were offered by the carriers, and replaced them with generic “builds” that are targeted specific handsets. As the CyanogenMod project grew, they developed additional features that were only available on phones running the CyanogenMod OS.
While CyanogenMod has been around for several years in the second half of 2014 they saw an intense ramp up of their business with two rounds of Venture Capital om two months. In September CyanogenMod incorporated, and immediately was infused with $9 million of capital in an investment round led by Benchmark Capital. By the 19th of December, they had already closed on an additional $23 Million in their Series B round of funding lead by Andreeson Horowitz.
With the infusion of cash, CyanogenMod hired 17 employees and created an easy installer which will get their software onto any Android handset.
In December CyanogenMod launched their first Google Certified Phone the OPPO – more deals with OEMs are said to be in the works.
My experience with CyanogenMod
I started using CyanogenMod about 4 months ago, when I grew frustrated with the speed and functionality of my ageing Galaxy S3. Where many people would have upgraded to the Galaxy S4 or a newer handset, the light-weight features of CyanogenMod breathed new life into my existing handset.
Once I got rid of the Samsung TouchWiz carrier modifications, not only was everything faster, but with Android 4.3 I now had access to the most recent operating system features. While some parts of the CM experience still seem rough around the edges, the general look and feel is fantastic.
CyanogenMod is moving up
CyanogenMod is clearly run by very smart people who saw the gap between the open source Android Operating System that Google released, and the handset specific software that the OEMs provided to their carriers. CM is the only company who builds operating systems for multiple OEM brands of smart phones, this technology is hugely valuable.
CM took advantage of a very specific opportunity, which was made available by Google offering Android as Open Source, and now with management & VC partners in place, I believe that CM will refine their product and prove to be a large player in the smartphone software market in the years ahead.