So long, Cyanogen! OnePlus says its future belongs to OxygenOS

Chinese firm assembles team to build its own alt-Android

Upstart quasi-Android smartphone maker OnePlus says it has hired an assortment of "Android rockstars" for its OxygenOS team, who will be in charge of developing the homegrown firmware that will soon ship as standard on its phones.

"Our team has some of the most talented industrial designers and mechanical engineers in the world, but developing a ROM requires an entirely new skill set," OnePlus' Carl Pei blogged on Thursday. "We needed to find people not only with great technical ability but also unique perspectives and insights on how to improve our users' software experience."

Readers may well ask why OnePlus needs to develop its own ROM at all. Its desire to avoid licensing Google's official Android builds is understandable, but it already had a perfectly serviceable alternative in the form of CyanogenMod, the firmware that came preinstalled on its early models.

In his blog post, Pei said that developing its own software will allow OnePlus to offer better localization, faster updates, more seamless integration between hardware, software, and the cloud, and will allow it to respond more quickly to user feedback. But that's not the whole story.

What really happened is that OnePlus and Cyanogen had a falling out late last year after clashing in an Indian court over whether OnePlus had the right to ship devices based on CyanogenMod firmware in India. OnePlus thought it did, but Indian mobe-maker Micromax insisted it had signed an exclusive agreement with Cyanogen for the region – and the court sided with the local firm.

Unwilling to put up with such shenanigans, OnePlus – a wholly owned spinoff of Chinese electronics maker Oppo – told the court that rather than abandon its Indian ambitions, it would regroup and be back with phones that weren't based on CyanogenMod.

Android fragmentation continues

Enter OxygenOS, OnePlus' homegrown alternative to both Android and CyanogenMod. Like CyanogenMod, OxygenOS will be based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), but will include extensive customizations not normally found on phones that ship with Android builds sourced from Google.

"Our system will be based on Lollipop, and will be built to be stable, fast, and lightweight," Pei blogged in a missive to OnePlus' Indian customers in November. "True to our original promise of putting user experience first, it will be bloatware-free and only carry the features important to our users."

To build its OS, OnePlus has hired a number of experienced Android developers, including several members of the team that developed Paranoid Android, another custom AOSP-based ROM firmware.

Apparently, they are already well on their way. In a Q&A session on Reddit on Thursday, Pei said the first community build of OxygenOS was released on January 1, and OnePlus mobile product boss Helen Li said she expects the first stable release to arrive next month.

One interesting tidbit, though: Although OxygenOS will be based on the AOSP, when asked whether it would be open source software, Pei responded with a flat "no."

It's not uncommon for AOSP-derived systems to ship with some proprietary components. Google's own software and services that come bundled with most mainstream Android devices are proprietary. But whether OnePlus is keeping its software closed because of proprietary hardware drivers or because it plans to develop additional proprietary software on top of the OS is not clear at present.

As for when customers will be able to download an image of OxygenOS and flash their own devices, that's also a little vague.

"Because this is our first major software release, we have to ensure that everything is solid and stable before making it available for download," Pei said. "We wouldn't ask you to settle for anything less, and we appreciate your patience." ®

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