What the End of Cyanogen OS Means for You and Your Phone

Updated

The company that once claimed it was going to “put a bullet through Google’s head” by building a superior version of Android is instead throwing in the towel. Cyanogen says its popular Android fork CyanogenMod is shutting down, ending a quest to compete directly with Google by building a version of Android less reliant on the Mountain View giant’s services.

Cyanogen announced that all development work and updates will cease tomorrow (Dec. 31). However, the story doesn’t end there for the Android fork. A group of CyanogenMod contributors has launched a new project dubbed Lineage OS that will enable it to live on in another form.

So what does all of this mean for you? Even if you’re not a frequent Android tinkerer, there are some issues to consider. And if you are running CyanogenMod on one of your devices, there’s some work ahead of you. Here’s what you need to know about the end of Cyanogen OS.

What is Cyanogen?

Cyanogen is the company behind CyanogenMod, a forked version of Android that opened up the operating system to more creative use beyond Google’s control. At the height of its popularity it was used as the operating system of choice by OnePlus (builds are still available for the OnePlus One) and even garnered an investment from Microsoft. As an open source project, it was always free for tinkering by Android modders.

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The company got plenty of attention due to former CEO Kirt McMaster, who offered headline-grabbing statements such as a pledge to “put a bullet through Google’s head” and “take Android away from Google.” The vision was that Android could be made more customizable and extendable with less influence from Google.

What happened?

Cyanogen's Mod program promised to let developers integrate their apps more deeply in the mobile OS.Cyanogen's Mod program promised to let developers integrate their apps more deeply in the mobile OS.The company ran into financial trouble, laying off 20 percent of its staff in July 2016. Cyanogen was unable to convince smartphone manufacturers to go with its own custom version of Android. It offered a rather innovative plan for software mods, but Cyanogen never garnered the support needed. After repeated poor financial news, Cyanogen recently announced it would cease all operations for the Android fork by the end of 2016. This means no more updates to its OS, nightly builds or security updates.

Who does this impact?

Anyone with a smartphone that is running CyanogenMod ought to check with their manufacturer about what the future plans are. For example, those holding onto a OnePlus One should install the latest build of OxygenOS, OnePlus's own take on Android, if they’re running an older build that still has CyanogenMod.

The OnePlus One featured the Cyanogen OS when it shipped in 2015.The OnePlus One featured the Cyanogen OS when it shipped in 2015.Mobile phone company Wileyfox recently released a statement to assure those running CyanogenMod that their device will receive an update to move away from CyanogenMod to a different Android build, pledging a “purer Android experience.”

Additionally, if you were someone who opted to put CyanogenMod on your own phone, it’s time to make the switch to Lineage OS or consider another ROM.

So what’s next?

CyanogenMod will make an evolutionary leap to a new life form. Lineage OS is a new, open source project that will start with the same code of CyanogenMod but in theory get updates and new features over time. Of course, this will depend on how much individuals want to contribute. And since the effort is not backed by a large company, the path forward is fairly unknown. In a blog post announcing Lineage OS, there’s a sense of defiance: “ A company pulling their support out of an open source project does not mean it has to die.”

Why should I care?

This is an important development even if you don’t root your phone or do deep tinkering with Android. The demise of CyanogenMod points to how Google has successfully been able to make its own services almost inseparable from Android itself. This is particularly apparent when you consider that Google now sells its own phone, the Pixel, which includes the always-ready Google Assistant.

Additionally, third-party Android device makers including LG, Motorola, and others have ignored Cyanogen and decided to stick rather close to stock Android. The most notable difference is Samsung, which offers many of its own services as part of TouchWiz (and may be developing a digital assistant of its own for 2017’s Galaxy S8 release). Yet Samsung builds these upon the Android Open Source Project and is working on finalizing Nougat for its devices.