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The difference between Cyanogen OS and CyanogenMod

You'd be hard pressed to find Android fans familiar with concepts like rooting and flashing roms that don't know what CyanogenMod is. As a third-party replacement for the version of Android that came with your device that has been available since the HTC G1 — as nuts as it was to try and flash something on that phone — CyanogenMod has earned its place in the history of this platform. As Android grew, so did the people responsible for CyanogenMod, and now those people are a proper company working towards bringing their vision for Android to everyone by partnering with companies and being included as the release software. The software on these retail devices is a little different from the zip you can download and flash to replace your current version of Android, and to help differentiate between these two software versions you'll heard a different name associated with this retail variant — Cyanogen OS.

Branding aside, what exactly are the differences between the commercially available Cyanogen OS and the community maintained CyanogenMod? Let's take a look.

The open window and the closed door

Android is open source. We love saying those words, but the truth is Android is a lot more complicated than Andy Rubin's infamous tweet. CyanogenMod is proof that anyone can download the code from Google, make a ton of changes, and build something unique based on Android. Much like the Android Open Source Project, you can look at the work being done to CyanogenMod whenever you want through their code review, and you can download and compile CyanogenMod on your own. This is great if all you want to do is play with Android in a virtual environment on your desktop, but once you try to put that version of Android on a piece of hardware you run into a few hurdles.

The Cyanogen folks have to work with the companies that make these proprietary bits

Smartphones and tablets are full of all sorts of fun pieces of hardware made by companies that aren't Google, and the code necessary to make those things work well is almost always proprietary and closed source. Those proprietary bits can often be bolted on to a build and loaded onto the device alongside all that open source code, but you'll quickly find using your phone without those bits isn't going to happen. On top of this, retail versions of Android with Google Play Services need to pass Google's certification every time a software update is created in order to continue offering Google's apps and services.

In order to offer Android on retail products, the Cyanogen folks have to work with the companies that make these proprietary bits and they have to keep Google in the loop. This isn't the case with CyanogenMod, where new code can be added into new builds and offered to users on a nightly basis. Working with these companies for retail releases means maintaining a separate software channel to work with those companies, and releasing a version of their Android fork that includes those proprietary bits. Essentially, that separate retail version is Cyanogen OS, and it's only available to people who buy a phone with this software included. It's built on all of the open source software that makes CyanogenMod, but includes some proprietary software that makes working with other industry partners — from Alcatel and OnePlus to Qualcomm and Intel — possible.

Software partnerships

Nextbit Baton

The differences between Cyanogen OS and CyanogenMod go a little further than whether you can poke around and wield some of the Cyanogen software to make something of your own. If you're a fan of bleeding edge software, regardless of whether it's 100% stable, nightly builds on CyanogenMod get you the latest version of everything much faster than the stable release cycle found in its counterpart. Cyanogen OS includes a number of software partnerships as well, and by integrating the software from their partners directly into the interface the Cyanogen folks are able to offer what they view as compelling alternatives to the way Google is currently doing things.

Fans of "pure" Android consider moves like this to be a form of bloatware

For the most part, these additions are viewed as a good thing. One of the most popular third party software keyboards in the world is available by default, a highly functional backup and sync service instead of Dropbox or Google's cloud services, and recently a new dialer system that includes a community-driven caller ID and spam caller reporting system, not to mention a significant agreement with Microsoft to include their services in the future. Fans of "pure" Android, which is to say folks that only like it when Google tells them what apps are going to be put on a device when it is handed to them, consider moves like this to be a form of bloatware. In response to those concerns, the Cyanogen team have continued to support the ability to choose through opt-in services and the ability to uninstall pre-loaded software.

These software additions are optional for Cyanogen OS users, and practically non-existent for CyanogenMod users. While the Cyanogen folks have said in the past they're trying to determine the best route for allowing their community fans to participate in the same integrated apps the Cyanogen OS folks have available to them out of the box, there has yet to be any official plans for that happening. Some developers have chosen to fully embrace both sides of Cyanogen, like the cloud sync folks at Nextbit with their Baton service, but it's not yet universal. Depending on your preference with this extra software, that is either a good thing or a bad thing. Since these folks seem to be all about choice, letting all of their users build the experience they want seems like the most logical way forward, but only time will tell.

Growth is good for everyone

Cyanogen OS 12

While there are some significant differences between Cyanogen OS and CyanogenMod, most of these differences are arguable not user-facing. Most folks aren't going to try to add to or modify their own software. That shouldn't take away from their significance, but in context it means the average person using either Cyanogen OS or CyanogenMod is unlikely to see much of a difference in day to day use, which is kind of the point. CyanogenMod is for folks who grew tired of the Android sold to them by someone else, and Cyanogen OS is an attempt to create a compelling option for users before that software frustration or boredom happens in the first place. You can even install CyanogenMod on Cyanogen OS devices, should you ever feel the need.

It's also a mutually beneficial arrangement. Cyanogen Inc gets to say they have a huge community of users and contributors, and their strategic partnerships help create paid positions for folks to come in and work on CyanogenMod full time. This means working with developers who are contributing to the project, supplying devices to community maintainers, and paying for the hardware necessary to create nightly test releases for the many devices under the CyanogenMod banner. The dividing line between Cyanogen OS and CyanogenMod means both can continue to grow at a healthy pace, which is usually a great indicator that neither is going away anytime soon.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

48 Comments
  • When will the US get more Cyanogen OS phones...my OnePlus One is getting long in the tooth. ;)
  • WHY would we want more? What is this, suck up to Cyanogen week? The android users J hear kvetch most about their phones are all Cyanogen users. They're almost as bad as the iOS users. Both sets complain endlessly, in between rants about how it's the best thing to ever happen to humanity.
  • Yes, because more options are always a bad thing. They don't drive the market to improve or anything...
  • Sometimes less is more and is better. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Not in the VERY obvious case where Cyanogen has created SEVERAL software solutions that have eventually worked their way into stock Android. I'd rather see them continue to grow their product, and that's best done by reaching more customers via hardware options for the masses. Derp.
  • That might hold weight if we were talking about CM, which is Open. Cyanogen is not. Android can't incorporate their code.
    Their product sucks and their attitude as a company is even worse.
  • I'm pretty disappointed with Lollipop on my OnePlus One. Both mine and my wife's phone needs to be restarted frequently, gets much worse battery life, touch screen issues, GPS issues, etc...
  • Me too. Loved KitKat. My phones lag on Lollipop. Too much emphasis on design and not enough on performance.
  • Great write up. I really like cyanogenmod. For me it's been a long Journey with them from back in my og droid days to my oneplus one. I've fallen In and out of love with them a few times. I love that they have found their way, because they seemed lost and lacked a cohesive vision for a few years.
  • I am currently out of love with them. Lollipop on the OnePlus One is pretty bad.
  • Their operating system is good but their end philosophy to split Google from Android disgust me Posted via the Android Central App
  • Lol dont worry, they cant and wont do that...lol
  • I agree with you. I used to use cyanogenmod on my old galaxy nexus, but ever since they formed their own company and decided it was there mission to cut google out of android I have had little interest in trying it again. They treat Google as the big bad evil, but the truth is android wouldn't be what it is today without Google. At least from my prospective Google is also one of the main reasons to use Android, with its integration with their services being a major plus for the OS.
  • It's like they got a taste of money and now aboard the greed train
  • I'll stick with what Google intended. Cyanogenmod is great for phones that were left behind, but Cyanogen OS is just a skin that is OK. I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • I agree to an extent. It's nice to have change but Google is pretty legit with its consumers. Hell even compitition can alter their own software which is nifty. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I agree. I tend to stick to stock. I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • Agreed about CyanogenMod. It breathed new life into a HTC Desire that I had on US. Cellular, after the OS and bloatware became too large for the phone to handle (I had uninstalled literally everything that I could, and was still getting "storage space low" warnings). It's almost 5 years old now, and my kids still use it (on the factory battery, to boot).
  • That's good. That's exactly why I like it for that reason. I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • It is far from just a skin and not just for old devices, it is great for instantly removing network and manfacturers skins and rubbish, my note 4 works much better on cm than touchwiz.
  • You didn't understand my comment...... Please reread. I wonder if illiterate people get the full effect of alphabet soup
  • That would be great, until you realize that the Note 4 is know for its S-Pen functionality and is rendered useless when you use CM. Besides, you can always root and uninstall system apps that take up space if you wish instead if reflashing to a system which won't take advantage of a feature the Note 4 has and the others don't Posted via the Android Central App
  • I was surprised by how great my Note 4 feels with CM12.1. And the SPen works fine for things I use it for, I'm not an artist so the different pressure levels had never been part of my usage. Some other extra things that happen with the pen are kind of gimmicks. I can use the pen like I use my finger and can sign documents better than using my finger or those snub nosed capacitive pens. All while using CM12.1 Posted via AC App from Note 4 (CM12.1)
  • Android's stylus API (which has existed since ICS) has always supported pressure levels. If CM on the Note 4 is missing pressure capability, someone screwed up. CM on the original N7000 (international Note) and N80xx (Note 10.1) most definitely did. The only thing that was actually missing really was S-Note and a few other gimmicks. All Play Store pen-enabled apps that I know of worked fine.
  • From the remarks I've heard from their management, they need to grow up, stop stabbing people in the back and learn how to keep their mouths shut Posted via Android Central App
  • Don't worry, now they have joined hands with greatest back stabbers in the world [m$]. Remember what M$ did to Nokia by sending their Trojan Horse? The same is going to happen for cyanogen for believing M$. Posted via the Android Central App
  • What? Put a dying animal out of its misery?
  • RIP Oneplus One + Cyanogen Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • I'm using a Nexus 5 with CyanogenMod 12.1 and Google apps installed but I would never buy a phone with Cyanogen OS. I don't think they should be making any money off of Google's work.
  • So you'll never buy anything but a Nexus? My M8 posted this
  • Google's work? It's open source.
    Your free to use android and put your own services on it.
    Amazon been doing it for years Posted via Android Central App on 1+1
  • You do realize that Android is based on Linux, right? That means Google is making money off of someone else's work themselves.
  • I wonder what will be written about CM or Cyanogen OS tomorrow... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Folder locking. Doing gesture controls the day after that. Got next week all mapped out as well if you're interested.
  • I'm interested what's next weeks line up Posted via the Android Central App
  • "Growth is good for everyone." Tell that to the purists. Growth or change is their worst nightmare.
  • The difference between Cyanogen OS and CyanogenMod eh? Cyanogen OS is a commercialized version of a custom ROM and is what happens when people involved with CM form a company for it and start growing cocky, thinking that they can separate Google from its own mainline operating system at a massive scale. CyanogenMod on the other hand is a custom distro of android commonly used as either a alternative basis operating system, a template for more feature packed custom ROMs and occasionally a tool to gather certain device specific code and drivers for a large number of devices. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I love everyone that's like "Fuck CM!" If you don't like it, don't use it. Sheesh.
  • Somebody said it, thank you! Android lover since '98
  • Android didn't even exist in 1998. I owned the HTC G1 and it was the first android phone. Also I flashed CM on it but before CM existed JesusFreak was the first custom ROM.
  • I remember when I first got the (at the time) freakin awesome G1 on T-Mobile. I got it over the HD2 because of Android. Almost started to dabble in putting Cyanogen on it when I got my computer stolen. Crazy how far Android has come. Posted via Android Central App
  • COS 12 Odin my oneplus was almost unusable: bugs over bugs. Also partners apps are bugged (maxxaudio). If they want to make money they need to behave like professional and not amateur devs.
    Btw my experience with cyanogen Inc ended a week ago, now I own an xperia z3 and I'm a smartphone user again, not a smartphone tester.
  • They are new as a company, still finding their feet. People should chill out and let them find what exactly they can be as a company. Corporate world is very different to community work. Besides all this is a choice thing, you don't agree with them, then get on with the group you agree with. These guys need to make a leaving with their skills too like the rest of us. Yes they are making some mistakes but who doesn't? I know that for example people like to insult the skins device manufacturers put on, but way back at the beginning Android was quite a terrible incomplete experience and without the skins it was really bad (for me at least). Yes the skins need to let go now that Android had matured but we need to remember how useful they used to be as well. Same thing, some things start well and get bad later and some stumble before all goes well. Posted via AC App from Note 4 (CM12.1)
  • If I ever keep a phone after it stops getting updates, then I'll be sure to install CM or more than likely PA. But, something tells me I'm trading this Nexis 6 in for this years release of the Nexus 5, as long as it has a bugger screen than 5".
  • I thought I would like Cyanogen OS for a couple months. Then they started ditching the Google apps. Once that is complete they are just another Amazon offering a Fire phone. I like Cyanogenmod and tend to use it when I've had my phone for a long time and get bored.
  • Exactly zero Google apps have been ditched.
  • This article is the stuff AC should be publishing, not the, how to locate the volume button, types that they seem to flood this site with. Ive been visiting AC less and less after they dropped the news that the Tmo note4 got lollipop. This site isnt that great and I'm not trolling i love android Posted via the Android Central App
  • One things for sure, I'd love to see what they'll do in the future, no matter how controversial it is. The future is very unpredictable.