The underdog smartphone maker HTC continues to carve out territory in the largely uncharted decentralized internet. Instead of competing directly against giants like Apple and Samsung that have thrived within the current internet paradigm of centralized servers and walled gardens controlled by giant corporations, the Taiwanese smartphone maker today revealed a new smartphone that paves the way for a more decentralized alternative.
The Exodus 1s, a cheaper, more sophisticated descendent of the Exodus 1launched last year, will be the first smartphone capable of running a full bitcoin node out of the box. By making it easier for more people to validate bitcoin transactions and blocks, the phone has the potential to increase the resilience of the bitcoin blockchain.
But perhaps more importantly, according to HTC’s first decentralized chief officer, Phil Chen, the full node and a number of other decentralized services natively integrated with the new phone will give app developers new opportunities to connect directly to decentralized networks, which are more resistant to censorship and capable of giving users more control over their money and their identity.
As giant companies like Facebook and Amazon continue to address public concerns over their influence over our social lives and spending habits, HTC’s Exodus 1s could mark the biggest step yet toward a solution that involves reinventing the internet from the ground up.
“Running a node is maybe the most important part of the blockchain as it helps secure the network, every one of them acts as an authoritative verifier of every single transaction of the block,” says Chen, who is the driving force behind HTC’s crypto push. “For Exodus customers, we’re building technology for the open, neutral, borderless, decentralized and censorship-resistant world.”
There are currently only about 9,000 active bitcoin full nodes verifying blockchain transactions. Each node holds the entire bitcoin history going back to the first transaction and requires as much as 200 gigabytes of storage, increasing at a rate of about 60 gigabytes a year, according to Chen. The Exodus 1s will support a lighter version of the full node that requires just 10 gigabytes of storage, but each phone will include extra SD card designed to support complete full-node services. The full nodes do not enable bitcoin mining, which Chen says may happen at a future date.
Like the original Exodus, the new phone will include a Zion private vault, which will be cordoned off from the rest the phone to enable safer storage of the private keys that give access to the phone owner’s cryptocurrency. Unlike the original Exodus, the 1s will let developers build a wide range of decentralized applications on top of Zion, which supports bitcoin, ether and litecoin, using the newly open-sourced developer kit. By helping enable alternatives to centralized institutions like Facebook and credit data provider Equifax, HTC is part of a new breed of companies like the Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss-backed Blockstack that are imagining decentralized alternatives that are less susceptible to privacy violations and outside hacks.
“Right now most apps typically connect directly into centralized services,” says Chen. “If we can help increase the number of full nodes, we can make it a lot easier for app developers to do it right, which will benefit everyone.”
The 1s will include Qwant, an internet search engine that doesn’t track searches or filter results, and like its predecessor, it will offer a social key-recovery system that doesn’t rely on a bank or other central authority. New owners of the phone will be prompted to identify a trusted group of individuals who can approve access to the Zion private vault if the password is lost or stolen. Native integration with the privacy-focused Opera browser, cryptocurrency portfolio tracker Blockfolio and Numbers, which lets users monetize their personal data, is also included with the new phone.
The phone, which will be able to be purchased with bitcoin, ether, litecoin or other supported currencies, is expected to sell from $250 to $300 when it hits the shelves in Q3 of this year, according to HTC. (The Exodus 1, which has been available since last year, costs about $700.) While the member of the inaugural Blockchain 50 list isn’t sharing exact sales of its first crypto phone, Chen says they are “on track” with what the company expected. HTC’s market share has been shrinking recently, with last year’s revenue falling more than 60% over the previous year, to about $770 million.
Response to the Exodus 1 was mixed, with many calling it a publicity stunt and others heralding it as a new way to use the internet. It is worth noting that just six years ago, HTC had chosen a decidedly different route when it partnered directly with Facebook to build the failed HTC First, dubbed the Facebook phone. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his company could build a more decentralized way to log into online services. But even as Facebook prepares to launch its own mysterious blockchain services, Zuckerberg has expressed doubts about the benefits of logins that don’t rely on a central authority.