CyanogenMod knocked on head

A screenshot of an Android phone, showing an analogue clock and various app iconsUpdate 26th Dec: Cyanogen, Inc. turned off CyanogenMod’s web servers yesterday, likely in response to a final blog post from the team. The download site remains up until the end of the month.

As if 2016 couldn’t get any worse, I read today that the Android distribution CyanogenMod was being closed down; the parent company, whose founder (and founder of CyanogenMod) has left, will be turning off the servers at the end of the month. The developers have renamed the project Lineage and are currently being hosted at GitHub, but that currently doesn’t appear to include binaries that you can install on a phone. This isn’t the disaster that losing Alan Rickman or Leonard Cohen was, but is a pretty sad development, as CyanogenMod brought a lot of old phones to life, especially those whose manufacturers refused to provide further Android updates for them.

The first Android phone I installed CyanogenMod on was my second Android phone, a Samsung Galaxy S (the original from back in 2010 or so). Samsung only maintained that phone up to Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and its version of Android was customised and contained a lot of junk. I discovered that there was a working version of CyanogenMod based on Android 4.0 and, though it was a bit of a struggle, installed it. It’s no exaggeration to say that it brought the phone back to life, in particular running a lot faster than the old Android, though it consumed battery juice very quickly when mobile data was switched on, which was easily fixed as CyanogenMod allowed you to easily customise the pull-down settings so you could turn off mobile data, or switch it to 2G or 3G, with a flick and a touch. Another feature I found really useful was the configurable ‘buttons’ at the bottom of the screen — I always set it up so that it always showed a search button, which early Android phones came with as standard. When I bought a Galaxy Nexus, which came with stock Android, I was underwhelmed at the lack of these sorts of features.

I put CyanogenMod on the two further Nexus phones I bought (a Nexus 4 and 5), and then in early 2015 moved to iPhone. Despite the added speed and stability, I very much missed the configurability of Android which CyanogenMod took to the max (keep in mind, iOS had only just allowed the use of third-party keypads such as SwiftKey; Android had had these from the beginning). I moved back to Android with a Nexus 5X in mid-2016 and have been using the stock Android it came with. It doesn’t look like there will be a version of CyanogenMod based on the latest Android (Nougat) now.

I don’t know if I’ll try out LineageOS, if it ever gets a Nougat ROM for my handset out. As CyanogenMod was an open-source project, perhaps Google could implement some of its features in stock Android, even if you have to turn them on. Perhaps they could be made available as a sort of ‘advanced’ version of standard Android, but some of these features, like the configurable buttons, surely wouldn’t bamboozle most non-techie users. However, a third-party distribution which maintains Android for perfectly usable handsets whose owners don’t have £600 to spare after Google abandons them, as it has the original Nexus 5, really is essential.

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