New Qualcomm deal opens the door for more Cyanogen-powered phones

Cyanogen has quietly become the most important company working on Android not named Google.

On Monday, it announced a new partnership with chip giant Qualcomm which will result in Cyanogen’s version of Android being pre-installed on Qualcomm’s reference designs. Given that Asian smartphone manufacturers often heavily rely on reference designs to build the devices that they ultimately take to market, this could lead to a significant spike in devices sold with Cyanogen pre-installed.

To date, Cyanogen has been pre-installed on three devices, the Oppo N1, the OnePlus One, and the Micromax Yureka, according to the company. None of them have been huge sellers or widely available in the United States. On the tails of this announcement with Qualcomm, Cyanogen will be announcing later this week that its software will be pre-installed in at least one new device.

OnePlus One camera app

The Qualcomm deal means that Cyanogen’s software will be provided for devices running low-to-mid range Snapdragon 200, 400, and 600 line of chips, as opposed to the 800 series that’s used in pricey devices like the HTC One M9, so it’s unlikely that there will be a truly premium device with Cyanogen pre-installed in the near future. It’s more likely that Cyanogen will start popping up in affordable devices in developing markets.

It’s hard to tell what Google thinks of Cyanogen. Google’s head of Android Sundar Pichai commented earlier on Monday that he played with Cyanogen’s phone but he doesn’t “know their value yet” and he questions “the premise of building something without Google services.”

Google’s version of Android is built on top of an open source version of Android. But most of Android’s best features are closed-source and come directly from Google. If Cyanogen was to build up its own app store, and possibly use Microsoft’s office and mapping software — certainly possible, given that Microsoft is rumored to be an investor in Cyanogen — then it could become a real rival to Google’s global Android ambitions.

Cyanogen already sports a few interesting features that Google can’t match at the moment, like Nextbit’s cloud-based device syncing. Cyanogen also supports theming, which is a popular feature not included in mainstream Android. Cyanogen could become an attractive Google alternative for Chinese phone makers, who don’t usually pre-install Google services.

Cyanogen started as a alternative firmware project for Android tinkerers, and it’s starting to grow up as a company, releasing a new logo on Monday. As it gets its software into more devices and raises more money, it could end up becoming a bigger rival to Google itself.

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And on the 7th day, OnePlus opened up its phone sales to all

After selling its Android handset for six months through a unique invitation system, OnePlus is switching gears. Starting on Tuesday, OnePlus will take phone orders from anyone for 24 hours and repeat the process weekly. Yes, those other six days will still require an invite to buy a OnePlus One phone.

OnePlus One camera app

The open purchase period begins at 8 a.m. GMT and will offer a choice of the 16GB Silk White model or the 64GB Sandstone Black edition. In the announcement, OnePlus said it had been collecting sales data over the last six months and adjusted its production schedule, which may be the reason behind the change. Anyone who purchases the phone on a Tuesday will still get invites to provide to others so that they can buy a OnePlus One on the other days of the week.

Aside from the strange and sometimes frustrating invite system for purchases, OnePlus has made a name for itself with the handset. With prices of $299 for the 16GB model and $349 for the 64GB unit, you’d think these are mid-range handsets at best.

OnePlus One phone

But the company has found a way to offer a compelling LTE phone with some surprising specifications at these prices: 3GB of memory, a 5.5-inch IPS display with 1920 x 1080 resolution, [company]Qualcomm[/company]’s 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 and a 13-megapixel [company]Sony[/company] Exmor camera sensor, for example. All of that hardware runs CyanogenMod 11S, which is based on [company]Google[/company] Android 4.4; the company is working on an Android 5.0 update as well.

All in all, OnePlus is offering quite a bit of phone for the money. And now it’s offering that package to anyone, provided you make your purchase on a Tuesday.