We Catch Up With Cyanogen At MWC and Talk Branding, OnePlus, Micromax and Alcatel Hero 2+

So far, MWC has been a busy event. However, our Alex was able to take some time out with Cyanogen's Steve Kondik, Vice President of Product Development Dave Herman and Tomer Elbaz from Waves Audio. Check out what they had to say about everything Cyanogen.

Alex: So, first one to start off with is how did you enjoy partnering with OnePlus?

Steve: It's been an interesting ride. It's had its ups and downs. I think overall its good. You know, when we started off, we were both very, very new companies and only sort of new what we were doing. So we got to figure all that out along the way. But, long term, I don't think things are gonna wind out for our two companies. But, were still supporting it. We're about to start shipping L (Lollipop) for it.

Alex: So what do you think about their own ROM, Oxygen and Hydrogen?

Dave: We've seen screenshots and a very, very early build. Honestly, it's very early for them as well. We haven't seen too much of it so its hard for us to say.

Alex: What made you partner with Micromax before the OnePlus One's product cycle was really complete?

Steve: They're huge, right. Their pretty significant marketing effort and significant support behind the whole project. Overall, it's been pretty good as well.

Alex: Did they reach out to you or did you reach out to them?

Steve: We were talking to them for quite some time.

Alex: OK

Steve: Have you tried it?

Alex: The Micromax one?

Steve: Yeah, the Yu. It's pretty good. Here, try this one. This one has L.

(Steve hands Alex a Yureka)

Alex: Is that new?

Steve: Yeah it is.

Alex: Yeah I don't remember that on the OnePlus One

Steve: Yeah. There is a lot of stuff there that nobody has seen yet.

Dave: Its pretty remarkable what you can get out of a piece of hardware like that.

Steve: Yeah, for a $150 device.

Alex: Yeah, they also do Android One devices too.

Steve: So they have quad-core, that's an Octa-Core. So it's a little better.

Dave: We'll also be doing the update for Lollipop anytime now.

Steve: Yeah, that and the OnePlus One are both in final testing now.

Alex: You announced, today, the new branding for Cyanogen. Who was behind that?

Steve: Our big thing is an open platform. We wanted a look and feel that was a little bit more of that feel. A little more open and less mechanical. And, all the new Cyanogen imagery, reflects that.

Alex: And the new partnership with Alcatel OneTouch, what led to that?

Steve: Yeah, that's been ongoing for awhile too

Alex: Is that just to try and get it into North America, as I know they are pretty big over here

Dave: Yeah, it's targeted towards North America right now

Alex: Yeah, Micromax is more Indian based

Dave: Yes, entirely Indian.

Steve: So yeah, we are going to be doing some cool stuff with them [Alcatel OneTouch]

Alex: What's your opinion on android tablets and their declining sales?

Steve. It's tough to say. I have a Nexus 10 that I use religiously. I'm one of the only people I think there is a lot of stuff that can still be done with them. But, I think a big problem that might be impossible to overcome is that Kleenex Q-tip scenario where the brand iPad is associated with the product no matter who the vendor is. I walked through an airport one year for CES with a whole bunch of Samsung tablets on me and the guy behind me says "is that the new Samsung iPad?" and he actually meant it. So there is that tie there, that might be the problem. That might be why everyone just goes and buys an iPad. Because they don't call it a tablet, they call it an iPad

Dave: But even then, if you look at the iPad's sales figures, the iPad has dropped significantly, even for them. I think part of the reason is that you are seeing a rise in phone sizes, these phablets and there is this murky line between what is a tablet and what is a phone. Once you get to that 5, 5 and a half inch screen.

Steve: Outside the U.S., android tablets are fine. They're all over the place, but not so much here (U.S).

Alex: Do you think it has something to do with the carriers, subsidizing with smartphones?

Steve: I dunno.

Alex: I know Verizon, T-Mobile, I think AT&T as well, have been adding a lot more tablets. Customers are buying a lot more tablets with them.

Steve: Me personally, I'm really adverse to getting another carrier item. I have a T-Mobile contract and all that stuff, but I don't need a second SIM. I think today that is a big problem, convincing people to get a second device on the same network with another SIM, another data plan. I dunno.

Alex: So, I guess there is no plans for a Cyanogen Tablet?

Steve: It's not off the table but we don't have any plans for it.

Alex: OK.

Steve: If we had the right specs. If we are going to do a tablet, it needs to have something really special and we are not quite there yet either.

Alex: And Android Wear. What are your thoughts with Android Wear? I see you're wearing a (Moto) 360.

Steve: I like it. It's early stages. I think (Android Wear) is not really quite ready for mass consumption yet. It's good all around. I don't think smart watches are going to be the next big disruptor.

Alex: The next smartphone.

Steve: No, no chance. But they're nice. Navigating while driving, checking the time. Little things.

Dave: I think the one thing we will see, is now that they (the market) have at least come out with something, Apple is about to come out with something, I think the technology will increase at a rate that it will become more mass market in the next year or two.

Steve: The Huawei and LG ones that just came out look pretty good.

Alex: The LG Urbane is a really nice watch. Even the WebOS version they just brought out, I think I like that one a little bit more.

Steve: Which one?

Alex: Well it's the LTE version, but it runs on WebOS.

Steve: Oh really, haven't seen that one yet.

Alex: They've added a lot of new stuff on that one.

Steve: I think it's more about what's after watches. That's where everybody is going towards. We don't necessarily know what that is. The contact lens or something. But I think these new form factors are the precursors for what's coming next

Alex: So we are going to see Cyanogen going to other areas other than smartphones? Wearables?

Steve: Very very likely.

Alex: Are wearables more likely than tablets?

Steve: Im not even sure at this point Theres a lot of stuff out there. We are still a pretty small company and there has been a lot of opportunities for us to branch out already but we are still not quite ready. But later this year, you are going to see some interesting new stuff, some new directions.

Dave: I think steve made the point earlier. Anything we do, we want to make sure it is the best product in that category. So, if we do anything outside of phones, we want to make sure that it is so good you want to get one. So we need to identify what that is first.

Alex: So, I heard that Cyanogen might be doing their own store, for apps and stuff like that?

Steve: Potentially, well, we haven't done anything like that yet. Our philosophy is more about open service, open access to services. Not necessarily just based in GSM but more about enabling the platform to do more so that app developers can do more. If that means have a set of apps which are more competitive with GSM then we want to enable that. Thats the big picture, the big goal.

Dave: We did launch a store which as part of the Yureka device and so you can customize the phone with that. So thats kinda the first step to opening up the platform.

Alex: Is that going to be on the Alcatel Hero2+?

Steve: Yeah.

Alex: For china, is there going to be your own appstore for devices there?

Steve: There has to be.

Alex: Because you don't want to be using Xiaomi or other OEMs?

Steve: There's like 200 app stores in China. Its crazy. The sheer amount of competition that has sprung up there because Google is not there. Its pretty insane. We kinda hope that happens everywhere.

Dave: Well, it gives you more choice. The thing to see in China is that your average consumer has more than one app store. They'll have certain app stores that specialize in games, certain app stores that specialize in productivity. So people have started to change their behaviours based on the fact there is not one Google store, so to speak.

Steve: Yeah. Do you always shop at Walmart or do you want to go to these targeted high-end stores.

Alex: Tell me more about the Hero2+?

Steve; Yeah, its octa-core, 2GB RAM, (hands device to Alex), try it out there, pretty nice screen, 1080p screen, it has a stylus, 13MP on the back, 5 on the front. That's not the final build and its a little sluggish, The final version will be a lot better.

Alex: Does Alcatel have a final build yet?

Steve: No.

Alex: Running KitKat (Android 4.4)

Steve: Yeah its still KitKat. There is an MTK chip in there. We would like to have Lollipop on it but MTK is just starting to get the support code out there so likely by the time it ships, the L update will be ready for it.

Alex: How much is it going for?

Steve: $299

Alex: Not bad

Steve: Yeah, it has a stylus, this one has the LED cover on it.

Alex: So when you did the Waves OTA, how did Waves get integrated into Cyanogen?

Steve: I think it actually started with OPPO, Waves and OPPO have a big partnership together. And when we were working with OnePlus, they wanted to do something similar. We wanted to do something totally different though, compared to what they (OPPO) were shipping, we worked together for a few of months, they worked pretty tirelessly on the software and all the ridiculous demands that I threw out and we got something pretty solid together. We made a new front end for it, they enhanced their stuff like the low power audio stuff on the snapdragon SOCs and it turned out pretty good. It sounds awesome.

Alex: Is it just going to be on the OnePlus One or on other Cyanogen devices?

Steve: We hope its going to be on more as well.

Alex: So right now its just on the OnePlus One

Steve: Yes, so far.

Tomer: I would like to say something about that. Cyanogen are professionals, they know what they want to do, they are passionate about what they want to do, they enable to create experiences, all the way from the kernel up to the application, they have lots of capabilities which for us, as Waves, means better audio experience. More knowledge means better audio experience. They allow us to be better at what we do. And thats great, this is why we were so thrilled to work with Cyanogen and keep working with Steve and his requests, we were supporting that and we found that are core values of each company were quite the same. So we hope to see more and more things coming together and hope for the opportunity to bring more great sound qualities together.

Steve: Im a big audio nerd, audiophile I work on a ton of other audio related stuff for CM. Like all the losses and high res, all the enhanced stuff that we have in our stack. It was a pretty fun project.

Dave: Steve would run round the office saying "listen to this". It was just that much difference.

Steve: Yeah, if you come to my office I have stacks of audio gear on my desk.

Alex (to Tomer): So with Waves audio are you planning to just stick to Cyanogen or do you you want to work with other manufacturers?

Tomer: We are available for other customers but not what you do with other customers is what differentiation, what else you can do, even the capabilities that Cyanogen allows us, this is why we invest in this partnership. Looking forward to bring more capabilities. If I may say, the audio expectations as devices are getting smaller with higher compute power, so you can do more but you need to be aware of battery consumption and power consumption. If, in the past you were listening to music at home or taking your phone calls on your landline, now, this is your entertainment hub, your productivity hub, your communications device. All of these experiences are around audio. This enable us eventually to get more knowledge from these devices to be intelligent enough, to be optimized and bring great performance. This is why we are also tailoring our packages to get advantage on the information that comes from Cyanogen to get these experiences.

Steve: Yeah, the really cool thing that they do is not just some stuff they do to tweak the sounds, it's that bass line, that bass tuning, that you're always gonna get. The difference is huge. The original sound quality, I mean they are really tiny speakers on there and then they did their tuning and then all of a sudden is sounds like there is an actual a beat behind it. Its pretty good.

Tomer: In the Pro audio world you are working with musicians, the recording artists, run the shows, we have a few 100s of thousands of recording studios that are using our technology to create content. The biggest live shows in the world now runs on Waves. We even got a technical Grammy for our contribution to the music industry. Obviously, those are very sophisticated algorithms that are heavy and if you want to bring them to those devices they need to be very efficient in what you do, very optimized and these are the things which eventually brings us more capabilities, more tools to enable better experiences. And this is not just make my speakers sound louder and bigger and wider. This is beyond that. You expect much more from your device. You expect to know it, you expect to give it commands, you expect to take phone calls in noisy environments and each one of the scenarios I have just described, has tons of challenges to be supported. This is what this is all about, getting more to the end users, bringing more sophisticated, more heavier algorithms that will enable richer experiences. This is all about the experience.

Steve: I think its funny too. A lot of people really underestimate the amount of effort that goes into making these things sound good. Its one of the hardest things to get right. Its really hard. And these guys do it well. They have way more experience than most of the other guys out there. Cool stuff.

Alex: So with Waves on the One Plus One, would you say its better than BoomSound on the M8 (HTC One M8)?

Steve: BoomSound have some bigger speakers right, and they are kind of positioned a little better. So it is a little tough to say. But with what this has, they are definitely on par with each other. I would definitely say that.

Tomer: What is BoomSound, if I may?

Steve: Its on the HTC, its their enhancement stuff. They have some front facing speakers.

Steve: They have a little bit more of a powerful amp in there and they have the bigger front facing speakers. It is pretty good. But with their stuff (WAVES) its sounds pretty good. Its right up there with the M8.

Alex: I have a few more questions but not so much about Cyanogen, but what are your daily drivers?

Steve: I'm most carrying this one (OnePlus One) and I have a Nexus 6.

Dave: OnePlus One

Tomer: I have a OnePlus and an iPhone.

Steve: Oh, I have an M8 too but its on AT&T so not much good here

Alex: I know you (Steve) have a Moto 360, do any of you guys have a smartwatch.

Dave: Yeah, I have one of them too.

Alex: What kind of apps do you guys use most?

Steve: I'm all over the place with apps.

Alex: SwiftKey?

Steve: Yeah, I use SwiftKey although i switch my keyboard quite often. Am using the CM one right now. I like to switch things up. Most of my stuff is productivity stuff, I have a bunch of smartphone apps here, a lot of audio stuff, I travel a lot so lost of travel apps and endless remas of test apps and benchmark apps.

Dave: Im almost the same, benchmrarks apps

Tomer: I'm the same.

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