Everything OxygenOS: What We Know, What to Expect

Everything OxygenOS: What We Know, What to Expect

OnePlus has been a heated company filed under many controversies, but with many strengths and virtues that turned them – and their product – into one of the biggest buzz-filled and talked-about entities of the mobile world in 2014. Their debut with the OnePlus One “flagship killer” was met with a lot of conversation surrounding not just the phone, but the company’s decisions around their promotion decisions. In the end, their first device was a success that sold nearly 1 million devices last year despite virtually no (traditional) advertisement and some severe hardware supply shortages. The start-up had a rough and interesting history full of ups and downs that passed onto their product, something we covered in this in-depth recapitulation of the 2014 events OnePlus went through. But if there’s something worth noting out of that turbulent history is their software relationships with CyanogenMod, and the controversy it spawned.

These two companies forged a strange alliance, having now-corporate Cyanogen deliver their underground custom ROM into an official big-name OEM flagship for the first time. This romance was met with skepticism at first, as it marked a consumer-grade release for Cyanogen which was an inexperienced company in this regard, despite their excellent development track-record. Nevertheless, the product was great, with the OnePlus One’s CyanogenMod 11S getting plenty of praise from critics and power-users alike. It was speedy and the battery life baby the hard-soft couple created was phenomenal… But then controversy hit them with another case we reviewed in-depth regarding a legal stand-off between the Mod Maker, the OEM and India’s Micromax manufacturer that had previously signed exclusivity rights with Cyanogen… who didn’t inform OnePlus of the fact before they released the One on indian territory. With this controversy, Cyanogen’s reputation (as a corporation) took a hit and OnePlus had to divorce from them in India, left vagrant looking for a solution ROM for their phone. With reports stating the two companies were at the brink of permanent break-up, not many expected the ongoing CyanogenMod S support to continue, but it still did – and now we know their Lollipop build is undergoing testing and readying up for release.

But the real star of the show came at the end of January, when OnePlus teased a new ROM that would be released for their OnePlus One and future releases, dubbed OxygenOS. Not much was specified in this little enticing forum post, but they made their mission clear: delivering a ROM that would be the epitome of simplicity, yet extraordinarily powerful. They hinted at open software that would be customizable and free of unnecessary bloat. Meanwhile the Chinese variant was also seeing the Oppo ColorOS ROM replaced by one named “HydrogenOS”, but according to reports this one would be heavily skinned like traditional OEM ROMs such as TouchWiz. Some screenshots had leaked through GizmoChina that many originally thought was OxygenOS, but it is now believed this is the ColorOS replacement – although we still don’t know for sure.

Much mystery surrounded this new offering for over a week, but they have now made an official announcement informing us of their plans and some of the work they have done to achieve them, as well as introducing us to the team behind the work – many names which will be familiar to those following the custom ROM development scene. Furthermore, the team behind the ROM had a Q&A session at Reddit (traditionally dubbed ‘Ask Me Anything (AMA)’ in those circles) where they interacted with the community and answered the users’ doubts and concerns – while still trying to be as secretive as possible. Let’s take a look at what we’ve gathered from these events so far!

What is OxygenOS?

Something that surprised many is the use of the term “OS” in the name of the ROM, as it is considered a more powerful, deeper word. In this sense, OnePlus aims high with their promises, and what we know so far suggests a very fine-tuned experience that has subtle modifications across many key areas of the user-experience, while still remaining “simple”. Their ROM goes as far as providing its own custom recovery that will allow you to flash zip’s – other ROMs included – if you so desire. The real reason they are building their ROM from the ground up, however, is to strengthen the user experience by providing better localization and faster updates, as well as direct user-feedback implementation to shape the ROM the people want. Developing specifically around their hardware will also undoubtedly lead to better optimizations to get the most out of their flagship killers. Their democratic vision of OS building is summarized by their statement: “when we work together, amazing things happen”.

A key part of this new development for OnePlus is… well, the developers! And for this project, they have gathered very talented (and some very reputable) names from the Android development community to offer a new skill set to their already outstanding set of engineers and designers. The technical ability of these new team members shows in their track-record and will most likely reflect on the final product as well. Some key mentions are:

 

  • Helen, Head of Mobile Product: Software development engineer and program manager at Microsoft, leader and coordinator of the OxygenOS team
  • Aaron, Android Technical Lead: Legacy custom ROM creator that helped co-found Paranoid Android and served as a software architect and team leader.
  • Arz, UI/UX Designer: A 19 year old Indian designer with extensive experience in graphic design and in-depth knowledge of theming, producer of popular skins.

 

The Android Development Team at hand is equally impressive: Carlo from Paranoid Android is a brilliant Android Engineer. Paranoid Android’s software architect Hieu also joined the fry for hardware optimization, and Jesús – co-founder of PA – is working on the ROM’s headline feature, which we still have to know more about. Karin was a former intern at Google and works as an app developer in the team, and Yamil, “master of enterprise code”, is in charge of the recovery module. There’s over 50 more engineers and testers working on this ROM that weren’t mentioned, however, so this excellent team is just the tip of the iceberg. Helen’s statement on the Q&A summarizes this new team’s philosophy:“We are looking for our own unique identity and I think this team brings a lot of personality and experience that will help us create our own interpretation of a functional, beautiful, and stable ROM”

The Essence

“We named our OS ‘Oxygen’ because we want it to be something that works for you in the background and make sure the essential things are done well. We’ll optimize it for our unique hardware and have added features like the ability to modify the quick settings tile layout & quick unlock (through gestures). They’re not necessarily groundbreaking features but, especially for our first release, we just want to focus on small optimizations that make your life easier.”

This ROM will be light, powerful and stable. It won’t feature a heavy-handed OxygenOSLogoUI like we notoriously find in some of the more-bloated offerings out there, and it will keep things to the point. Their focus is on battery life, efficiency, performance – things that are tangible and universally matter to any consumer. Their new logo is supposed to reflect this, by representing the harmony between opposites – hardware (physical) and software (virtual), and the balance between these two contrasting yet integrated aspects of a smartphone. Deep metaphors aside, the logo looks really slick!

Like previously stated, OnePlus is going all-out on user feedback, something that also marked key developments of the hardware found in their OnePlus One flagship. They state that “we will never differentiate just for the sake of differentiation”, which is curious given that, in today’s day and age, not differentiating is the closest you can get to differentiating from those who hungrily hunt for new gimmicks and selling-points to add to their spec-sheets. Like stated above, they want non-intrusiveness, something that works and gets out the way to allow you to enjoy your phone, the way you want it.

Their goal is to create what they call “stock with convenience”, no more no less. The team is aiming to ship the update with the Google Launcher built-in, which would be a traditional and smart decision given it is one of the most efficient launchers in terms of performance and user experience, and many power-users have come to love all the Google integration under the hood. While this might sound boring to some, OnePlus never had to “stand out from the crowd” with overly different offerings, as their “keep it clean” approach managed to drive them through a rough industry pretty well – for a startup, especially.

Release details

Their announcement page was very secretive about the release date time-frame, and they said that there are still various certifications to be completed in order to release their Lollipop-based ROM. They want to put out a fully stable build that’s being tested thoroughly to ensure rock-solid stability – as an enterprise-grade release should have. This means that you have to wait if you are ones that never settle for anything less than the best. As far as the Q&A, Helen spilled details saying that the update’s release would be next month, although co-founder Carl himself didn’t know that beforehand.

Those readily expecting the OTA to hit your OPOs next month will be disappointed – there will not be an OTA. Instead, they will allow you to upgrade from CyanogenMod to OxygenOS exclusively through flashing. They did reassure everyone that CM12S will be coming as an OTA and bring Lollipop to OnePlus Ones all around the world… but those willing to try something new will have to get their hands dirty.

Something rather disappointing to some developers might be the fact that the OS will not be open-source, as there are proprietary drivers in there that make the matter a little more complicated. Apache licenses would allow for it to be open-source regardless, but OnePlus didn’t specifically comment on this. But those who want to port this ROM shouldn’t fear, other key software source like the kernel’s will be open and distributed, and while they don’t plan on porting the ROM to any other devices, they would be “honored” to see their creation running on other hardware.

As for longevity, OnePlus’ Aaron says that their first flagship will see support for another year, while Carl says that it could see more updates until January 2017. Paranoid Android’s fate is not fully decided, but the team hinted that it might still be supported by those who migrated to the OxygenOS team.

Features

The device will come with some interesting additions, but not in the form of additional bloatware applications. However, Carl teased that OxygenOS might adopt MaxxAudio from Wave, which is currently present in some of their device’s software builds. Despite the close relationship with CM, the popular themer engine won’t be available on the initial release, but they left the ball rolling by implying it could make it in the future. For those that hate the new sound profiles of Lollipop, Silent Mode with Vibrations will be there waiting for you!

For navigation, you’ll have editable quick-setting tiles that could feature similar innovations to those found in the OnePlus One’s CM11S, like the camera tile. Double tap to wake is reportedly present in the builds they are testing, which is great for any phablet. Something rather disappointing is that when asked whether the ROM would support Lollipop’s amazing Camera2 API, the team sadly responded that it wouldn’t, nor have HAL3 capabilities. Rapid charge will also not be present, but OnePlus was never one of those devices that requires frequent charging anyway. The ROM doesn’t feature phablet-features such as one-handed operation options or the much-desired multi-window, either – something non-OEM ROMs have pulled off before. Sadly it will not feature the voice-activation reportedly coming to CM12S and something very disappointing for those around these circles is that it will not come with root pre-enabled, nor DPI changing, nor privacy guard (at least initially).

Future

As you’ve read, there’s many features that might not make it initially but that the team hasn’t discarded for future iterations. As it stands, the additions they’ve told us about seem to match their vision perfectly, and the ROM looks to be a very complete and neat package. While we don’t know if it rightfully deserves the “real OS” title just yet, it has already been the target of Cyanogen’s Steve Kondik’s pungent sly tongue, who couldn’t help poking fun at their new competition in the device they also support. Developer Andrew Dodd came in OxygenOS’ defense by once again stating that they’ll have some degree of openness, as they did mention an open source kernel despite no specific or in-depth comments about a community variant of their release build.

This ROM has been officially detailed for less than a day and it’s already causing buzz and controversy with Cyanogen, and to be honest I can’t help but see that as a good thing. Let’s not forget OnePlus thrived on internet drama as that was their primary way of advertisement during 2014. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but ignoring what the competition might say, I believe this could shape up to be a great addition to the OnePlus flagship line-up. The OnePlus Two will reportedly feature this OS as well, and the team behind it hinted once more that it will retain its low-pricing strategy that gave the world a new device to drool over.

The OxygenOS team said that more of OnePlus and their future software and hardware will be known at the Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona this March, with a planned fan gathering for OnePlus followers. I personally can’t wait to hear more news about their future developments, and let’s not forget that they still haven’t revealed their secret “key feature”. Whatever it is, they already have my attention, and I hope that their strategies once again offer more worthwhile options to Android users in look for great experiences at a low cost. If you are a developer who would like to get into the team and maybe make something great, their careers page offers many positions you might want to check out. Let’s hope they can pull off an awesome deal of a phone again, because as we said last time, flagship killers never settle!

Stay tuned for our coverage on the “little OEM that could” and their future reveals at MWC 2015!

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