With Android and iOS ensconced as the Nos. 1 and 2 mobile platforms, others -- including Windows Phone, BlackBerry and Firefox OS -- have been jockeying for third place. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, an Android replacement called CyanogenMod has landed a big round of funding -- and may be positioned to land in that coveted position.
On Thursday, Cyanogen Inc. announced it had successfully closed $23 million in Series B financing with its partners at Andreessen Horowitz and other venture capital firms. In September, the company announced its initial $7 million round, which took the effort from being a hobbyist activity to becoming an active company.
CyanogenMod is a custom Android ROM that, over the last several years, has been used by Android phone owners who wanted to flash and replace their existing Android installation on their phones, in order to obtain improved performance or additional features like mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. The custom replacement OS is a full version of Android but without the special user interface or other specialized features that have been added by manufacturers. Additionally, CyanogenMod is driven by the energy of a growing community of developers.
11 Million Users
Cyanogen Inc. founder Steve Kondik, a former employee of Samsung, has pushed the availability of a simple installer so that a larger group of users could employ the substitute OS, instead of primarily developers. The company currently employs nearly two dozen people, and is expected to add up to four dozen more in the next six months.
According to Cyanogen, its software has 11 million users worldwide, particularly in China, where modification of Android is popular. Reportedly, there are about 25 million users in China who had engaged in some form of Android modification, and as many as 60 million worldwide. By contrast, analysts have projected that Windows Phone users will be about 68 million this year, passing BlackBerry's 62 million.
Based on the growth of the CyanogenMod numbers, several analysts as well as Cyanogen have predicted that the third position in mobile platforms could be an Android variation, for which CyanogenMod is perfectly positioned. CyanogenMod is currently free, but the company is expected to offer various add-on services and features at an additional price as part of its business model.
A CyanogenMod app in the Google Play store described how to flash a phone, but Google booted the app out of the store last month. According to Cyanogen, Google said the app violated the terms of the store because it encouraged users to violate their warranties. Cyanogen said it is working on a revised version that will better satisfy Google, and it hopes the updated version will become available through Google Play early next year.
The company has also said that, at some point, it expects to release a consumer brand that will be centered on the idea of average users modifying the phone's OS. But a major hurdle is convincing smartphone owners to wipe out their phone's OS and replace it with another one -- a brain transplant that could potentially kill the patient.
One talked-about opportunity could involve a former vice president of Chinese smartphone maker Oppo, named Pete Lau. He had been involved in the successful effort to support CyanogenMod as an option of Oppo's high-end N1 smartphone, but then he resigned his position last month. The day after his resignation, Cyanogen's Kondit said that the two of them will be creating a new phone that could "change the world of Android." Earlier this week, Lau announced that he had formed a company called OnePlus to develop "the perfect smartphone."