The smartphone market has been rather stagnant for the last couple of years without significant functional innovation. The current sentiment towards smartphones is analogous to the waning PC fad at the beginning of this century, which ushered in the era of smartphones.
Big tech companies are scrambling to be at the forefront of the next technological fad and Internet trends point to three major candidates – Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Blockchain.
Microsoft, after losing out on the smartphone revolution to Apple and Google, is among the first to recognize a shift in sands as, after a failed acquisition of Nokia's mobile phone assets, the company announced that it would end support for Windows 10 mobile users at the end of 2019.
In December 2018, Samsung filed for three trademarks in the European Union (EU) for software applications targeting cryptocurrency users – Blockchain KeyStore, Blockchain key box and Blockchain Core.
However, the first mover advantage among renowned smartphone manufacturers for betting on blockchain goes to the Taiwanese electronics company, HTC, for their Exodus 1. After receiving the phone in the first shipment this new year on Jan 14 and having used it for a couple of weeks, it seems an appropriate time to gauge its prowess.
Exodus 1 can be purchased using three major cryptocurrencies only. The cost at the time of writing is 0.21 BTC, 5.71 ETH or 25 LTC.
Design and Specs
Exodus incorporates a 6-inch Quad HD+ display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, with a 12MP + 16MP dual rear camera and 8MP+8MP dual front camera and packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, with 6GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage and stock Android Oreo, powered by a 3500mAh battery which supports fast charging.
A brazen quest for uniqueness is underpinned by the back of the phone being completely transparent. While the phone is sizeable, HTC's trademark Edge Sense 2 allows for convenient one-handed use of the phone by shrinking the viewable section through a double tap gesture.
With regards to design, specs and convenience of use, Exodus 1 compares favourably with similarly priced flagship Android phones from the likes of Samsung and Google.
Focus on Security and Privacy
Now to the juicier elements of the phone which makes it stand out from the competition.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Phil Chen, HTC's Decentralized Chief Officer, outlined the exigency for tighter wallet security without compromising the convenience of using cryptocurrency.
“Out of 30-35 million cryptocurrency wallets, only 2 million are hardware wallets. Most users do not directly hold their own funds. Centralisation is not safe. One of the most critical things within crypto is architecting security within the phone…security was never built in to the original internet,” noted Chen.
To that end, HTC came up with the built-in Zion wallet for Exodus 1, which allows each device to function as a node on HTC's blockchain, thereby allowing feeless transactions between wallets connected to the network.
Through the use of a secure ‘enclave', within what HTC terms as the ‘trust zone' within the Arm hardware, Exodus uses a secure trust execution environment to keep users' funds safe and secluded from the device's primary hardware components, making it extremely difficult for anyone to steal the funds by gaining access to the phone's Android OS.
Chen was optimistic that such an environment could be used to store sensitive user data from fingerprint or facial sensors or user identity information in the future.
“In the Information Age, there needs to be a definition of digital property. If this digital property is not defined…I would be very scared of what the next generation of the internet can become.”
It's also worth noting that Exodus 1's default browser is Brave, which further bolsters the phone's privacy features. There's also a social key recovery system, allowing a user to share five ‘shards' of their key with five different friends who can help recover the private enclave in the event of a loss of device.
In addition to BTC, ETH and LTC, the Zion Wallet supports a handful of ERC tokens, including BAT, the native token of Brave.
Next generation of smartphones?
Having moved their focus away from smartphones in recent years, HTC has returned to the market to lead the market in an exciting new direction.
HTC views Exodus as the pioneer for a new revolution in handheld devices, promoting secure, private and readily convenient ease-of-use for cryptocurrencies.
“This is a strategic investment, but we need to prove ourselves and do a step at a time. We’re excited by the potential of this to restart the internet from the ground up.”
One of the biggest drawbacks of Sirin Labs' Finney blockchain phone was that, apart from its wallet features, the phone itself was clunky to the point of being unwieldy and the specs were rather unexceptional considering the steep price of $1000, significantly higher than flagship Android phones.
Exodus may not have found the happy medium between wallet security and the phone's primary features just yet, but it has unquestionably given itself a head start in this niche.
A promising handsel which portends progressively polished future iterations.