Cyanogen, the maker of an Android-based operating system, is hoping it can expand with the help of Chinese handset vendors with global ambitions.
The U.S. company has over 50 million users of its CyanogenMod, which is a modified version of Android that can be installed on smartphones manually. But it's hoping to proliferate the OS even more, by partnering with Chinese companies to release phones that come with the software.
"It's a great way for them to build some identity outside of China using a brand that's already reasonably well known," said Kirt McMaster, the company's CEO.
McMaster made the comment Tuesday in Beijing at the Global Mobile Internet Conference. Although the company's executives declined to name specific vendors, they said the phones would target the international market, and not mainland China, where competition is already heated.
China has over 100 smartphone brands, both small and large, and some of them are moving to the international market.
Last year, Cyanogen helped OnePlus, a Chinese handset maker, design a critically-acclaimed phone that used its software.
Among the features available with CyanogenMod, is the option to change the look of the user interface, with a wide selection of themes. OnePlus's flagship phone shipped close to 1 million phones at the end of last year.
"Without Cyanogen, OnePlus would have sold like one device in international markets," McMaster said in an interview. "Essentially they built their brand on the back of Cyanogen."
The OnePlus success also showed other Chinese vendors that CyanogenMod could open doors to the global market. A number of these vendors are larger companies than OnePlus, but struggling in international markets to develop visible brands, and want help, he added.
It's a good sign for Cyanogen, which also managed to bring on board Microsoft as a partner this month. But as for OnePlus, its ties with Cyanogen are probably ending.
Earlier this month OnePlus launched its own custom Android ROM, built with a simple interface that could replace the CyanogenMod. The change means that OnePlus can offer "faster, more meaningful updates", according to the Chinese company. Cyanogen, however, will continue offering support to OnePlus phones still running its OS.
Steve Kondik, Cyanogen's chief technology officer, said the company's goals for software didn't align with OnePlus. "That's probably the last you will see from that partnership unfortunately," he said. "Two new companies are trying to do crazy stuff, a lot of people collide."
McMaster added that some vendors have the "delusion" that creating an Android "skin" will let them compete against Apple. But Cyanogen wants to do more with its own software, and integrate cutting edge non-Google services with the OS.
In an email, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei said its partnership with Cyanogen was "mutually beneficial," although the two companies appear to be taking different paths in the near term.
"We wouldn't be where we are today without this joint effort," Pei added.
Cyanogen executives said they wished OnePlus the best, but they're quickly moving on to new opportunities.
"OnePlus shipped reasonable volume, but nothing compared to what some of these other partners can ship," McMaster said. "So we are working with partners that can scale much quicker."