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Android Updates: Why Is Cyanogen So Much Faster Than Google/OEMs?

Eric McBride
16

 

A little while ago I wrote an article about 5 things I hated about Android, and I realized many of the things I hated so much are problems that one team of developers have successfully eliminated on their own. Who? Why Cyanogen and the CyanogenMod team of course. I first discovered Cyanogen after getting the first Android phone (HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1) back in 2008. While I liked the phone, the speed didn’t impress me. I then went to Google and entered in “how to make the HTC Dream faster”, and lord and behold....XDA Developers.

After being an active member there for years now and witnessing the insane things that these (and many other) talented developers can do, I was faced with 2 questions: Why doesn’t Google/Android OEMs hire developers from XDA to help gets updates of Android out faster?....and....how is Cyanogen so much faster than Google and OEMs when it comes to pushing out updates and optimizing/improving them?

What CyanogenMOD Does 

For anyone who doesn’t know Cyanogen, he is basically the Android Godfather when it comes to custom ROMS. His ROM is the base for almost all other Android ROMS, and if it weren’t for him and his talented team, the rooting and modding scene would certainly look a lot different. This is the team that brought Ice Cream Sandwich to devices that Google and multiple OEMs stated could never receive the update (due to hardware compatibility issues). This is the team that brought Ice Cream Sandwich to multiple devices 4 months before any OEM or carrier started rolling it out. This is the team that can provide Android updates for the device you just bought a year ago but is no longer supported by OEMs. What they have done with Android devices is nothing short of pure genius.

Cyanogen was actually so talented, that Samsung hired him directly on August of 2011 to work for them directly. But the thing about his ROMs is that they are not only better and faster than the ROMS that Google and Android OEMs release, they are updated and fixed on a weekly basis, and have WAY more features added to them that were never officially a part of the official release. The ROMS aren’t just modified, but are enhanced so much that you literally feel like you have a different device after flashing it. I can tell you from first hand experience, that the first time I rooted and flashed his ROM on my old G1, my jaw literally dropped at how much faster it was and how much better it performed.

Are The "Amateurs" Getting Better Than The "Pros"?

I’m not a developer, and I don’t know exactly what these talented devs to get such great and fast results. What I simply want to know is how it’s possible that XDA provides updates to the newest versions of Android MONTHS before Google and OEMs do, and how it’s possible that they can be so much better than the official versions? Look at developers like Romanb from AOKP project. He added a panel in the settings menu of ICS on multiple devices called “ROM Control” that allows you to change EVERYTHING about your device. You can choose the colors of the virtual buttons, you can choose how your CPU performs, make lockscreen customizations, and so much more. Why wasn’t that functionality included in the first place with the official release? If this student (who I am convinced can’t be older than 22 or 23) can find a way to do that safely on multiple devices (he does phones and tablets) and update them all on a weekly basis, how is it possible that Google and Android OEMs can’t do the same? Am I missing something here?

Solutions For Android Issues Exist...Is Anyone Using Them?

So if fragmentation is such an issue, releasing timely updates is an issue, supporting “older” devices is an issue, and adding useful features that people actually want and use is an issue, why not go to the place that has literally dozens of developers who have already tackled and SOLVED those issues, and get them on board working for Google and Android/OEMs? These guys had ICS ROMS up 2 weeks after the source code was released, yet there are still phones waiting 4 and 5 months to receive the update to ICS. These devs put ICS on devices that OEMs said would never receive it. These guys add features that people need and ask for, and they constantly come up with solutions to issues in days, all while it often takes Google/OEMs months (if ever) to offer a good solution.

What do you guys think? Are CyanogenMOD and all those talented developers actually more talented than the engineers at Google, Samsung, Moto, LG, and Sony? Or is it more an indication that “official” Android OEMs are simply lazy?

I hope the title of the article didn't lead you to think that I had the answer, as I'm just as confused as anyone else! Can any developers out there possibly chime in?

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Picture credits: accessandroid.com (edited by myself)

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Comments

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  • Trent Neuman May 29, 2012 Link

    I don't think that they are necessarily more talented. They just don't have the corporate mentality.
    The manufacturers and Google will get their money no matter what. Custom ROM developers get donations via PayPal so they have a greater incentive to update and be cutting edge.
    Also.. Cyanogen rocks!

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  • Eric McBride May 29, 2012 Link

    Very true. The greed factor rears its ugly head.

    I totally agree with you.

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  • Jacek Dylak May 29, 2012 Link

    Remember that OEMs are really not interested in keeping old phones working. Selling new devices is what makes profits for them.

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  • Wolfgang H. May 29, 2012 Link

    Is CM really faster? It depends. Neither CM 7.2 nor CM 9 has reached final status so far. As far as CM 9 goes, there isn't even an RC yet.

    It's also a bit of an unfair game. While CM can easily put alpha (nightly) versions online, corporate can't. So CM has a huge userbase, who are willing to test and submit bug reports, which is benefical for adding new functionality.

    But one thing is true, all manufacturers could easily speed up their release cycle if they really want to. I think projects like CM will utlimately "force" manufacturers to speed up their updating process in the end.

    I personally use CM, as I want to have the newest stuff, even if it's a nightly version.

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  • Trent Neuman May 29, 2012 Link

    @jacek
    That is so true. If not for Cyanogen and XDA, I would have upgraded my non ICS supported (by Samsung) captivate months ago! They have given me the flexibility to wait to upgrade for the next nexus and jellybean.

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  • Eric McBride May 29, 2012 Link

    Really good points guys. But remember, devs like Cyanogen and Trip for example often build their ROMS from the ground up, and I've seen them literally do it in less than 2 weeks. Really crazy when you think how quickly and efficiently they can work.

    Im just really really grateful for the dev community. Those guys put so much work in, and they do it all for the love, not for the profit.

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  • Cam charles May 30, 2012 Link

    its all about the corporate overlords and the structures and "requirements" they pull out of their arse lol and id say almost nothing to do to with skill

    one of the worst would be testing regimes, im not saying that Cynogen dont test im sure they have some unit tests in place they run regularly, but i can guarantee they aren't as string and pointlessly extensive as an OEMs, if your cynogen modded phone crashes and drops your data well its a case of sorry hope you backed up, if a phone released by LG does that even once its a front page news story probably involving money or at least angry customers, for that reason oems etc would test through the roof which would add a large amount of time to anything

    of course it does all boil down to money money money, you can have the cream of the XDA dev crop working at a company but if that company gives you no budget and a week to do something that requires a real budget and a month even the most skilled devs will have to do a "well it works itll do job" the CM guys dont have this restraint they can poke and prod and try 6 different methods of doing something to find the best one, a dev at with a no knowledge corporate lackey with a calculator watching over him gets one try if it works thats it

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  • Stefan E. May 30, 2012 Link

    I agree with Wolfgang AND with Jacek. The OEMs could do a lot better, but a direct comparison to custom ROMs is not fair. The majority of those weekly (or nightly or whatever) releases has tiny to serious bugs which are hotfixed quickly but still exist. If Samsung released a ROM with any of those, they would get shitstormed - and in fact they were, because they did release buggy firmwares.

    3rd party devs can work on a completely different schedule, and the users are much more experienced and willing to accept flaws. But still there is no excuse for the really cool features to never migrate. I don't think I could stand a stock ROM on any device for long. :)

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  • Eric McBride May 30, 2012 Link

    And that Stefen, is the final word. Your right..comparing directly isn't fair, as the comparison just doesn't scale. But the really cool features these guys implement are for the most part being ignored.

    Nice summary bro :-)

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  • Stuart Halliday Jun 6, 2012 Link

    Well Eric, you disappoint me.

    Are you just trolling up an article on a quiet day or do you truly don't know the reason? If you don't should you even be writing Android Articles?

    The answer is so obvious I just can't believe that you (and perhaps others on this blog) can't see it.

    Incredible. Are you really so naive or just very young and inexperienced in how the real world works?

    :)

    .

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  • Eric McBride Jun 7, 2012 Link

    Hehe. You sure have a lot to say, but yet your statement goes nowhere? Enlighten me please Stuart! You give me a justifiable reason that Cyanogen and other devs can roll out fixes to issues, updates for unsupported devices, ect that Google and OEMS take months to accomplish (if ever).

    Im very interested to hear what you have to say!

    And trolling? Nah...apparently, over 13,000 other people found it interesting enough to read. But be very careful when coming on my blog to tell me how wrong, young, inexperienced, and without knowledge I am! I dont back down on this blog like other Android sites do, and in all honesty, pretty much any argument you come up with, I can counter. :)

    Lets play :-D

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  • Stuart Halliday Jun 11, 2012 Link

    I see you're over 30. So you really should know by now how the World works and surely you don't need me to tell you the facts of life. :)

    But then have you worked for an electronic company designing equipment, software, etc. for the real World?

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  • Eric McBride Jun 11, 2012 Link

    Hehe...yes I have. And what's even funnier is that I know people who have worked for Google that say even they are somehow very dumbfounded at how mods often solve problems at such a crazy speed. I think you misunderstand the point of the article. Of course you can't directly compare what devs do vs what Google does. But there are methods in certain fields that Google should take from devs, as they often deliver solutions with certain problems a lot faster than Google, OEM's and carriers do.

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  • savu adrian Sep 11, 2012 Link

    on another note, it is dificult for google and android team to develop this software too lightly, until the patent issues and the legal battles are not over. the devs do not have cramped in there necks these implications so the work in a relative feedom. this should be also taken under consideration.

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  • Eric McBride Sep 11, 2012 Link

    @Savu - That's a very fair point. I can't wait until all this patent madness finally comes to an end.

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  • Bret Zamzow Jan 27, 2013 Link

    As a developer I can tell you that teamwork is how we come up with fixes for everything so fast. You can have 50 different people working on 50 different devices, but all working on a common code. If something breaks for the HTC Evo 4G, chances are it broke on the Evo Shift and Evo 3D as well. If three to five developers get together and find the common problem, we can isolate and fix it together. Not only that, but we support old phones because we don't get paid for new phones. We don't get paid at all. I started developing because I wanted ICS on my Evo. I worked a lot with a guy named preludedrew to accomplish this. A lot of us submit patches to Google. It is up to them if they choose to merge it in their source code. The biggest problems developers face is companies not releasing the device driver source code. If we had that, there would be no phone that we couldn't keep going. We would always find a way. OEMs are too concerned with Money and Google is mainly concerned with big stable versions, not small patching. Pretty much everything works when Google releases. The issues come with OEMs not testing enough.

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