The Cabal Behind Last Year's Most Interesting Smartphone Has Disbanded

By Mario Aguilar on at

Cyanogen and OnePlus, the companies that teamed up to make last year’s most interesting smartphone, won’t be working together anymore. What’s next for the anti-Google Android sect?

Announced almost exactly a year ago, the offspring of Cyanogen and OnePlus’ collaboration, the OnePlus One, turned out to be a spectacular phone. Following a year of supply shortages and signs that all was not well internally, ZDNet reports that the two companies are officially calling it quits.

That said, we probably haven’t heard the last of the anti-Google movement that birthed it, it’s worth rehashing how we got here. Let’s back up for a second.

Many of you are likely familiar with Cyanogen, the company that leads development of the most popular ROM for Android phones. In short, they took the open-source code behind Google’s mobile OS, and built out a more open version of the platform. In recent years, they’ve grown from a scrappy set of hackers who like to tinker with their phones, to a company that’s openly adversarial to Google’s increasingly closed Android ecosystem.

In effort to build a “flagship killer” that could rival the top phones from the likes of giants like HTC, Motorola, and Samsung, Cyanogenmod teamed up with Chinese hardware upstart OnePlus. The resulting OnePlus “One” (GET IT?) turned out to be a fantastic first effort. The hardware was spec’d on par with all of the competition, and the commercial version of the Cyanogen OS—CyanogenMod 11S—ran like a damn dream.

By many accounts, including our own, it was the smartphone to beat, which sold at the very reasonable unlocked price of £228. The problem was that you couldn’t just fork over £228 to buy one. OnePlus couldn’t make the One fast enough to satisfy demand. To get the phone you needed to get on a waiting list for an invitation. Hugely annoying. During the brief moments when you could buy the phone without an invite, legions of excited consumers descended on the company’s website.

Though the shipping delays hobbled what could have been a blockbuster, the partnership between OnePlus and Cyanogen showed that amongst the nerds of the world there was a real appetite for something different—for an alternative to the big name manufactures with their clunkily skinned Android devices.

So far from calling it quits, Cyanogen is looking elsewhere. After a brief debacle with an Indian OEM, the company is seeking new Chinese partners to make smartphones. “OnePlus shipped reasonable volume, but nothing compared to what some of these other partners can ship,” Cyanogen CEO Keith McMaster told ZDNet, “so we are working with partners that can scale much quicker.”

The big question is whether working with a bigger OEM that can churn product will produce a phone as successful as the OnePlus One. The phone was satisfying not just because it was an alternative, but because it was a convincing alternative. The confluence of factors that lead the OnePlus One to be such a good phone, also prevented that phone from reaching a larger audience.

You could imagine future Cyanogen phones going two ways. Maybe it’ll find the perfect partner that will finally make the “flagship killer” that an army of nerds demonstrably crave. Or maybe in an effort to realise that vision, Cyanogen will kill the magic that made the OnePlus One, for a tiny moment in time, the coolest phone you could buy.

[ZDNet and PCWorld]