The Exodus 1, one of the first blockchain-tailored smartphones is hitting the markets, and was a featured subject at the annual Slush conference in Helsinki, Finland a few days ago. HTC’s Decentralized Chief Officer, Phil Chen, was joined by Charlie Lee of Litecoin (LTC) fame to talk about the new device and its capabilities. Lee has joined HTC as a “consultant” for the Exodus 1 project.
Besides the phone’s release, it has just been announced that the Brave browser will be the standard browser installed on the phone out of the box, and that Brave are “working with HTC on their Exodus phone.”
— BrendanEich (@BrendanEich) December 8, 2018
The Brave browser is one of two elements of the Brave/Basic Attention Token (BAT) ecosystem. BAT is an Ethereum token meant to power a new online advertising model, which is delivered through Brave.
Chen and Lee emphasized the importance of privacy and data ownership, in an era of giant corporate control of most of the internet’s property. Chen claimed that seven companies – “four in the West, three in the East” – own most of the data that people produce, and even compared the current situation to George Orwell’s 1984 novel about authoritarian control. The blockchain-focused new phone is apparently a response to such privacy encroachment.
One important item of note is that HTC only accept cryptocurrency as payment for the new phone (this is refered to as “early access” on the company product page), with options for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.
The one notable physical design feature of the device is a clear glass backplate, which exposes some of the phone’s internal parts and gizmos. This is presumably an aesthetic statement on a larger philosophy of transparency, in line with the angle HTC is playing in its marketing campaign.
‘A Separate Computing Environment’
Chen described the Android-powered device not as a compromise, but as a best-of-both-worlds new way to store cryptoassets in between dangerous but convenient hot wallets and slow but safe cold wallets – examples of which are online exchanges and Ledger or Trezor hardware wallets, respectively. He emphasized that HTC’s solution was called a “hardware wallet.”
The phone’s cryptoasset interface, called Zion (keeping with the biblical naming motif), is “a secure enclave within the phone, and it’s separate from Android [operating system], to be able to handle your private keys.” This architecture apparently allows HTC to avoid the risks of an internet-connected wallet
This “separate computing environment” will come with its own application programming interface (API) which will allow the outside world to communicate with the separate enclave. Chen said that, for example, external wallets, exchanges, or distributed apps could use the API to allow transfers into and out of the wallet.
Social Key Recovery
Another feature touched upon was the “Social Key Recovery” feature. In addition to deterministic keyphrase protection which is by now an industry-standard feature, Social Key Recovery is an optional, additional failsafe method by which five keys can be distributed to anyone the user deems fit for the task. Only three of these five keys are needed to effect a recovery, in case the device is broken or lost.
HTC’s Fall From Greatness
HTC, in a story not far from Nokia’s or Research In Motion’s (formerly the developers of the famous Blackberry proto-smartphone device), HTC was once one of the phone industry’s towering giants, designing devices beloved by Android enthusiasts but ignored by regular people. The Taiwanese company’s health has taken a shellacking in recent years, losing most of its R&D force to Google, and suffering staggering fiscal loses year after year.
Perhaps the Exodus 1 is HTC’s gambit to try one last time to regain a foothold in the smartphone market. Charlie Lee, a celebrity in the cryptoasset world, said that “I see products like the HTC Exodus to help us get to mass adoption.”