Cyanogen's Founder clears the air

If you've been following the misadventures of OnePlus and Micromax over in India, you know that there's been a bit of a disagreement over who gets to use Cyanogen OS (as opposed to the totally open-source CyanogenMod) due to an exclusivity agreement that was created alongside the launch of the Micromax Yu brand. It's been a pretty big mess that has resulted in some unfortunately vague language regarding software support for the OnePlus One in India, and even got the OnePlus One banned from being sold in the country for a bit. While Micromax and OnePlus have clearly drawn their battle lines and are prepared to let the Indian courts settle things, the folks over at Cyanogen, Inc. have been deafeningly silent on the entire matter. Until now. In India yesterday, a statement has been provided to the courts from Cyanogen Inc. that better explains the company's position as the creator of the software for both devices.

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Since this whole mess started, there's been general unrest regarding what this will mean for devices running Cyanogen OS in the future. The court documents and public statements from both OnePlus and Micromax have painted a grim picture regarding the deals being struck with Cyanogen. We've seen what looks like an agreement terminated with all the respect of a text message break up, references to a great deal of money being involved in securing exclusivity, and then there's the strange way the company addressed whether or not they would be continuing to update the OnePlus One.

Out of context, none of this looks good on a open source software company whose mission statement has been to get as much Cyanogen out there as possible. Fortunately, for those who care, the company has decided to talk with Android Central about what has been happening behind closed doors.

OnePlus One

With Cyanogen offering its position to the courts in India, a position that seems likely to greatly help OnePlus in this ongoing legal struggle, the weird agreement termination emails from Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster that were revealed in court documents are all the more confusing. The snippet of emails that were shown to the public look bad, but the brief exchange also existed without context and made it easy for everyone to draw their own conclusions. According to Kondik, that email was from the tail end of a much larger conversation and wasn't nearly as abrupt as it appeared. This doesn't make a collaborative future between these companies any more or less likely, however.

"We're stuck in the middle of a fight between OnePlus and Micromax, because we're supplying the OS to both companies."

"OnePlus is a startup just like us," Kondik told Android Central via video Hangout. "And they are crazy ambitious. I'm not sure our long-term visions are necessarily converging based on the conversations we've had, but we're still going to support the [OnePlus] One. We're still behind them for this device, with plans to ship (Lollipop) next month, and I have no idea what the future holds beyond that."

OnePlus declined to comment when we reached out about this new statement.

When asked what had happened to cause this mess, Kondik explained that their interpretation of the agreement with Micromax was wildly different from the folks who were trying to establish the Yu brand.

"We're stuck in the middle of a fight between OnePlus and Micromax, because we're supplying the OS to both companies," Kondik said. "With each company, a short exclusivity was included in the agreements and we thought they were pretty straightforward. Our agreement with Micromax was a little more specific for the services we were providing, but it was never meant to be retroactive against OnePlus, and that's where the problem came from. With Micromax we were helping build an India-specific device that doesn't really work anywhere else, while OnePlus was designed to be a global device that worked almost everywhere."

Yu Yureka

"There's still no focus on monetization..."

It's not hard to see how this could have happened if you look at the timeline. Micromax and Cyanogen signed an agreement well before OnePlus announced a pricing and availability in India, and the first Yu device was announced to the world just a few weeks later. There's no reason for Cyanogen to have been involved in launch decisions over at OnePlus, and their only concern for the OnePlus One at this point would have been to get Android 5.0 ready to ship as soon as possible. This is usually where the financial narrative takes over, especially after Micromax claimed to have "incurred major expenses for creation of a brand exclusivity for providing to Indian customers mobile phones with Cyanogen OS." Kondik clarified during our conversation that Cyanogen OS has been licensed to both OnePlus and Micromax for free, which means those major expenses are really all about establishing the Yu brand, and marketing that brand to India.

At the time of publishing, Micromax has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Companies need to make money in order to survive, and Cyanogen Inc. is very much a company now — so if money isn't changing hands through licensing agreements, how are these guys making money? According to Kondik, they aren't.

"We're still a venture-funded company," Kondik said. "There's still no focus on monetization, and when those plans do fall in to place it will be once the potential market is much larger. This is the most important thing I hope people understand — we're still in it for the same reasons that the project got started around. We want to bring this new experience that users can help mold and shape as we go. It would be completely idiotic to stray from that."