Will the launch of blockchain smart phones be the next big thing?

September 11, 2018
Chris Wheal

Time was when playing Snake on your Nokia 3310 was the height of mobile sophistication. Soon CryptoKitties could be your game of choice as blockchain and dapps are set to come to mobile phones.

The Exodus from HTC and Sirin’s Finney (named after Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney) are due to launch later this year with both blockchain-enabled smartphones slated to retail for around $1,000 – the same as an iPhone X.

HTC logo

HTC is looking to turn around its fortunes with the Exodus

 

Spec

As you would expect for that price, both phones have lots of features. The Finney runs on the Sirin OS and has a built-in cold storage crypto wallet that supports major cryptocurrencies and tokens.

The phone is protected by Sirn’s cyberprotection suite. This includes a behavioural based intrusion prevention system and, just to be on the safe side, a physical security switch to protect the wallet.

The Finney has a 6” display and a second screen hidden behind the main display that slides up to reveal the wallet. There is a 128GB storage memory and 6GB RAM. And, not forgetting what phones are mainly used for these days, it has an 8MPx selfie camera and a 12MPx main camera.

The Exodus runs on the Android Oreo operating system and also has a built-in universal wallet. HTC plans to offer support for bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin through the phone’s own blockchain network.

Spec for the phone is hard to pin down but it is likely to have a 6” display and 64GB of storage.

Oh, and you will be able to play CryptoKitties on it.

Sirin Finney phone

Sirin’s Finney phone

Where to buy

The Finney is only available direct from Sirin. Early adopters can pre-order it at the moment with a 10% discount. Payment can only be made with Sirin’s own SRN tokens. Some $158m was raised in an ICO of the tokens last year.

The Exodus can currently be pre-ordered from HTC. Back in July Phil Chen, HTC’s chief crypto officer, said that the company already had tens of thousands of reservations for the handset.

But sales are likely to be to those already convinced of the benefits of blockchain and happy to source their smartphones direct from the maker.

Major UK networks are not interested in the phones at the moment and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future. O2, for instance, said blockchain phones would likely be considered too niche and low volume for it to consider including them in its range.

Security

Both Sirin and HTC put great store in the extra security that blockchain phones can offer over a traditional smartphone.

Sirin says: “The focus is overwhelmingly on user experience at a huge cost in fraud and cybercrime. We believe the digital economy of the future cannot tolerate this trade off: device architecture demands a paradigm shift that enables true security, while maintaining excellent user experience”.

HTC makes similar lofty claims: “Our vision is to expand the blockchain ecosystem by creating the world’s first phone dedicated to decentralized applications and security. With the release of the HTC Exodus we can now make this a reality.”

Getting Messi

Sirin is obviously throwing money at its latest project. Late last year it announced that Lionel Messi had been signed up as an ambassador for its products.

In a paid Facebook post Messi proclaimed: “I am usually busy trying to decentralize defences and after digging deeper into blockchain and decentralized systems, I’m excited to join SIRIN LABS as an ambassador to make blockchain more friendly with their upcoming operating system for smartphones.”

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is an ambassador for Sirin

Last throw of the dice?

While HTC and Sirin could be called innovative for seeking to bring the first blockchain-based smartphones to the market, it could all be looked at in another way. Both the Exodus and the Finney could be regarded as desperate attempts by flailing companies to pick up market share.

Sirin suffered a serious setback when its $14,000 Solarin smartphone aimed at the business market didn’t do as well as the company had hoped. A third of the company’s staff were laid off within a year the phone’s launch.

HTC is also in trouble. Once responsible for 1 in 10 of all mobile phones sold in the world, its market share is now down to well under 1 in 100. It has also laid off a lot of staff recently.

Software

While it is possible that blockchain-based smartphones could be the next big thing, widespread adoption of blockchain technology on the go seems far more likely to be addressed by software being added to the millions of existing iPhones and Android phones and not by people making their next phone a blockchain phone.

But when those early adopters actually get the blockchain smartphone they have ordered, they will always have the consolation of knowing that they can play CryptoKitties whenever they like.

Post written by Chris Wheal
Chris Wheal is editor of OpenLedger's news and features service. An award-wining business journalists himself, he runs a team of freelance journalists from across the UK and north America.

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