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OnePlus and the banning chronicle

The ban on OnePlus One phones seems to have started a long-overdue tech war. Great phones, great prices, great features! How can that ever be a bad thing, wonders Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Dec 28, 2014 14:45 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

Just as consumers were digesting the news of Xiaomi phones being banned in India, along came shocker number two: OnePlus One phones were also banned in the country. While the Xiaomi-Ericsson patent problem seems to be getting sorted out; the OnePlus One-Cyanogen-Micromax three-way war is just about starting. And it’s going to be a bloody one, with far-reaching ramifications worldwide.

The background story
OnePlus One is a phone with the Cyanogen version of Android. The company has worldwide rights for the CyanogenMod except for use in China. The much awaited OnePlus One phone (it’s got some of the best hardware on a phone and is priced at half of any competitor’s flagship product) finally launched in India in early December.

Soon after, the murmurs started that Micromax has exclusive Cyanogen rights in India for its new online brand, Yu, and its Cyanogen-based phone, Yureka, and thus would ask for a ban on OnePlus One’s sales in the country. Turns out that the murmurs were right.

OnePlus One’s sale was banned in India, however, they were allowed to clear stock with Amazon. They were also banned from importing any phone with the Cyanogen branding or OS on it.

The Cyanogen tale

So what is Cyanogen and why is it in such demand? The non-geeky explanation is that it is an alternate operating system that is based on Android but allows a ton of customisation and adds features that Android can’t touch right now. It’s also becoming a favourite amongst more advanced users and is a true wet dream for nerds and techies.

The customisation and feature set is truly impressive as you can pretty much control everything. You can set a theme that will have a native effect across the entire OS, including fonts and colours, FLAC audio support, App Privacy Guard (which means you can set individual application permissions and deny an app access to, say, your contacts or photos), each app can be password protected, and there is complete hardware control, including CPU overclocking.

Make your own phones: Cyanogen allows a ton of customisation and adds features that Android can’t touch.

It also lets you designate any hardware button to do any duty as well as double duty, gesture and draw controls to launch apps or a feature even when the phone is locked and the screen is off and just about a million other things.

Cyanogen started off as a totally free open-source project in which a whole community helped take things forward. In 2013, project founder Steve Kondik converted it into a commercial enterprise and named it Cyanogen Inc. As of now, these new moves have led to a lot of controversy within the open-source community and this new ban on OnePlus One has added great fuel to the fire. The Micromax fable

Micromax entered the picture a while back as co-founder Rahul Sharma wanted to take it onto a new journey and make smartphones less of a commodity and more a personal device. Thus was born the idea of Yu, an online-only brand. idea was to empower the advanced user and the young techies of the country with a product line that wasn’t just about hardware but also gave them complete control over the most important technology in their hand. And to get that journey started, Yu needed a phone that could literally be customised in a million ways.

Enter CyanogenMod and the Yureka phone. This very, very aggressively priced phone (at Rs 8,999) is a 5.5-inch 720p screen device with a Gorilla Glass 3, a 1.5GHz Snapdragon octa-core processor, 2GB of RAM with a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera.

It’s a nice, thin and light phone that is mostly plastic but feels good to hold and runs on Cyanogen OS 11. The big revolution is that Yu will honour the warranty despite encouraging people to hack into the phone, and that the service and repairs will be done at your home itself.

The banning chronicle
So, the Yu Yureka seems great and may start a new revolution but is this entire back-to-back banning controversy showcasing India in a bad light across the world? Is Cyanogen backtracking after giving OnePlus worldwide rights? Will Micromax get bad press and a consumer backlash as it has taken away the potential of people buying a brand like OnePlus in India?

Well, despite the rest of the analysts all seeming to think that the answer to all the above is Yes, I have very different thoughts. India is a market on fire and thus everyone wants a piece of the pie. So many brands are slugging it out and that’s always good.

OnePlus will come out with stock Android phones in India for the time being plus their own OS alternative to Cyanogen very soon. Cyanogen needs to do big deals and become a mainstream player as we do need solid alternatives to Google Android and some terrible skinning down by other companies! And Micromax pulled off a major coup here as the phone they’ve come out with as their CyanogenMod device is a killer product.

At the end of it all, we the consumers win on all fronts. Great phones, great prices, great features! How can that ever be a bad thing?

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, December 28
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First Published: Dec 26, 2014 15:32 IST