If there’s one Android project out there that needs no introduction whatsoever, it’s CyanogenMod. The name itself has become synonymous with aftermarket development and is without a shadow of a doubt, the single most popular custom ROM available. At the time of writing, they can claim 3,960,665 unique installs across over 70 different devices with dozens more supported unofficially—and these are just the ones who have chosen to enable the usage statistics. The roots of the project can be traced back to the original HTC Dream/G1 and a modified version of Android 1.5 (otherwise known as Cupcake) posted right here on XDA under the title, “CyanogenMod – Optimizing the crap out of Android 1.5.” Amazingly, this device still has an active development community and has even been graced with the latest version of CM, 10.
Over the years CyanogenMod has continued to evolve and push the envelope of what the Android operating system is capable of. It boasts numerous features that many users would love to see incorporated into stock Android and the ethos of “optimizing the crap out of Android x.x” remains as true today as it did back in 2009. The only difference is that nowadays these optimizations are made by an international team of developers over dozens of devices. It’s this open source nature and ability for anyone to submit code to the CM repository that has helped make it such a success. There have been numerous additions to the ROMs features, some of them developed in house such as the Apollo music player and CM File Manager, some of them from outside sources, the latest of which is the popular Pie Controls first featured in the Paranoid Android ROM series.
Paranoid Android is another popular third party firmware which may not have been around as long or gained as much of a following as CyanogenMod, but certainly puts as much effort into taking the Android OS that little bit beyond its original capabilities. It was the first ROM to offer the “Hybrid Mode,” allowing user to choose between a phone or tablet UI on an app by app basis, and even alter the DPI value for certain applications. It was also the first ROM to incorporate Pie Controls, a similar version of which has recently been merged into the CyanogenMod project. While the code used in the original Paranoid Android Pie Controls is a unique creation, its conceptual origins though should probably be credited to Google, as this style of menu has been an experimental feature of the stock Webkit-based Android browser for quite a while now. Pie Control analogs have also been available outside of Paranoid Android ROMs for anyone running a rooted device, originally thanks to LMT Launcher and other third party apps since, proving to be incredibly popular with users.
It’s important to note that although the version of Pie Control in the latest CM nightlies is based on the one from Paranoid Android, it has been completely rewritten to minimize the possibility of any conflicts with existing CM code. What Pie Control actually does is allow the user to disable the ever present on screen software keys and use a gesture to activate a radial menu at either bottom or side of the screen, thereby enabling access to some of the most commonly used functions such as back, home, menu etc. It’s also possible to have information such as the current time and remaining battery displayed when the menu is triggered. This allows the user to free up valuable screen space previously occupied by those annoying (in my opinion) on-screen buttons. While these changes have been integrated to CM already, they might not be available for all devices just yet, and those devices with dedicated hardware keys will need to manually enable the on screen keys before they can utilize the new Pie Control. If it can be done, there will be a guide to doing it in your device specific forum.
Now, I don’t think anyone was ever in any doubt that the development community were ever going to stop trying to take Android to a level of functionality beyond the vanilla offerings from Google, but this certainly shows that the likes of the CyanogenMod team aren’t above incorporating the ideas of those outside of the project and giving us, the end user, the choice of using the best features out there. There’s even speculation that the upcoming Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie, will make use of these easy-on-the-eye, yet sometimes frustrating-on-the-fingers, radial menus. That would just be too obvious though, wouldn’t it?
Like it or not, hardware buttons are on their way out. Despite them still making an appearance on the latest flagships from HTC and Samsung, it’s pretty safe to assume we won’t see them on a future Nexus device, and it is these devices along with their latest updates that drive the development community. The currently used system of static, ever present software keys is a fairly inefficient use of real estate—even on the monster screen sizes we are now seeing devices released with—and I’d be highly surprised if Android 5.0 didn’t offer a better solution. Whether that’s full on gesture navigation similar to the recently unveiled Ubuntu Touch or something halfway between the two like, well, like Pie Control I guess, remains to be seen. No doubt the rumor mill will be working overtime in the lead up to Google I/O in May._________