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Cyanogen Expands Team in Push for Open Android

What once unlocked phones for enthusiasts could become serious shift in how phones are made and sold.


Cyanogen has quietly expanded its executive ranks to transform its open source Android project into a serious player in the phone business.

The company has tapped former Amazon, Microsoft and Hulu executive Dave Herman as VP of product and hired former HTC engineering director Tyler Carper to serve as VP of engineering. The company also has hired former MediaTek and Broadcom executive Vik Natarajan as VP of global partnerships and distribution. It plans to announce the hires later on Tuesday.

Cyanogen is a for-profit business built around the CyanogenMod project, which is used by hobbyists to unlock their phones in order to get quicker updates and remove the types of interfaces installed by their device maker and carrier. It offers its own flavor of Android — one designed to offer users more choice while at the same time remaining fully compatible with the official Google version.

CEO Kirt McMaster sees a broad role for Cyanogen as a way to embrace Android without forcing users to choose between services from one company, such as Google or Amazon.

“We’re kind of like Switzerland,” McMaster said.

Open-source Android, as opposed to the variety using Google’s apps and services, already accounts for 40 percent of Android phone shipments. It’s especially big in China, where Google’s official version is only a bit player.

McMaster said that the percentage of open source Android could actually rise to between 50 percent and 70 percent even as the smartphone penetration goes from 1 billion people to 6 billion over the next few years.

“We believe this trend is not going to slow down,” Cyanogen CEO Kirt McMaster told Re/code.

Cyanogen has already released its first phone — the OnePlus One — and plans to work with other phone makers in the coming years, McMaster said.

Of course, Cyanogen isn’t the only one trying to take advantage of Google’s open source Android to build its own business. Amazon’s Fire phone and Kindle phone are built on that foundation, as is Microsoft’s just-updated Nokia X line.

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