Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Friday September 20, 2013.
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CyanogenMod is no longer just about a software project created by Android enthusiasts and distributed for free. It's now a software package distributed by Android enthusiasts who formed a company and hope to eventually build a business by distributing its software and partner with phone manufacturers as part of its plan to achieve those goals.
One partnership has already been formed and will be announced next week, but I have a strong belief that we can probably make an educated guess as to which company is on board. Here are five possible companies, in order of probability, that could soon be confirmed as the first hardware partner of Cyanogen Inc.
LG just released the G2 and likely has its hands tied with the upcoming Nexus 5. Even with that unlikelihood, LG could surprise us. LG has the manufacturing capabilities to take a chance on Cyanogen without competing with its own "regular consumer" targets who are more likely to buy the G2. I find them to be the second least likely, other than Samsung, to consider Cyanogen, but it's possible.
Odds: Bajillion to 1
Sony has less cause to jump on the CM bandwagon because it has a tough enough time keeping its products up to date. Sony hasn't made a Google Play phone, and if Google can't get it on board for non-Timescape software, why would Cyanogen? Believe it or not, Sony has been developer friendly and CEO Kaz Hirai has been vocal about a desire to accelerate its mobile position. Trying something new won't make it the No. 2 Android manufacturer overnight, but it could attract a crowd of customers who currently favor Samsung and HTC products.
Odds: 2,000 to 1
HTC has invested heavily in its own Sense UI and doesn't release devices with stock Android other than the Google Play Edition of the HTC One, so why go even farther from its comfort zone? Well, because it wants to shake things up and find a narrative other than departing executives and evaporating sales. Cyanogen Inc. could provide a temporary reprieve from the bad news and earn the attention of millions of Android enthusiasts. CEO Peter Chou has a reputation for bold decisions acted on quickly - that's how the GPE HTC One came about - and this might be the latest example of that management style.
Odds: 1,000 to 1
I've seen many people suggest that Xiamoi might participate as part of a bid to raise its profile in the west, but that's highly unlikely because its service-driven business model runs in direct competition with Cyanogen Inc. The Asian upstart more likely to embrace Cyanogen is China's Oppo. The company already makes fantastic hardware and is wise enough to not lock users into one ROM. We've already seen Oppo's willingness to let consumers decide which software is best for their devices, so it's not out of the question that it might entertain including CyanogenMod as one of its software options. Oppo has the right mix of flexibility and powerful hardware to make a partnership with CM appealing to people outside of China.
Odds: 2 to 1
UPDATE: It appears as though Oppo is indeed the launch partner. Cyanogen founder Steve Kondik has appeared in a teaser video for the event in which he says he's "looking forward to the Oppo event in Beijing" that task place on September 23. The video ends with The N1 flashing across screen after Kondik says, "We have exciting news ahead." If you bet Oppo was the first hardware partner, you've just doubled your imaginary money. (video via CNET)
Were I a gambling man, I'd bet on Blu being the first hardware partner for Cyanogen. Blu is a comparatively small phone company based in Miami that's capable of releasing products very quickly. The company specializes in phones like the Blu Life Play that try to get as close to high-end as possible but make compromises that keep costs down and fit into a "good enough" tier between the two.
I visited the Blu headquarters in August and saw a few prototypes that could possibly fit that mold and make sense to run CyanogenMod. All of the phones that I saw at Blu ran software that's pretty close to stock Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and it wasn't a coincidence. The people I spoke with made it clear that they believe light changes to Android are better than drastically altering it with overlays like Sense or Touchwiz. Software from Cyanogen Inc. would be more of a change than Blu has ever done, but it would be for the better and still mostly retain the stock-like appeal.
Blu is small enough that embracing Cyanogen would raise its profile. It could have a halo effect that attracts more customers to its brand and products. Blu is also big enough that it could put CyanogenMod on its smartphones and sell out of whatever device it launches very quickly (it already has trouble meeting demand of its phones sold on Amazon).
Odds: 1 to 1
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.