From Vaults to Metaverse Gateways: Exploring Blockchain Phones

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With over 80% of adults worldwide owning or regularly using a smartphone, the surging popularity of Web3 technologies implies that these mini-computers would play a significant role in introducing crypto to millions of people, potentially providing every individual with a gateway to Web3 in the palm of their hands. Blockchain phones – smartphones that integrate blockchain, crypto, and decentralized applications beyond the capabilities of a standard smartphone – are thus an essential means to large-scale crypto and blockchain adoption.

Are Blockchain Smartphones Worth It?

Privacy and security are the foremost reasons people are attracted to blockchain phones. The cryptographic nature of the blockchain, in combination with specialized hardware in Web3 phones, means that hackers and 3rd parties will find it difficult to access any data being stored or transmitted locally or on-chain.

Crypto enthusiasts benefit the most, as blockchain phones double as built-in cryptocurrency hardware wallets that allow for secure self-custody. The hardware in blockchain phones may even support mining activities (with some being able to run a full Bitcoin node). Not to mention the ease of executing on-chain transactions, participating in the Metaverse, buying and managing NFTs, gaming on sites like Coinslotty, or trading cryptocurrencies.

While some may argue that battery-powered smartphones make impractical mining devices, others have pointed out that mobile mining aims to get more people involved, no matter how small their individual contributions are. The more people actively participate in on-chain activities, the stronger and more resilient a blockchain network gets. They do this by dividing up network hash rates which may be otherwise consolidated and controlled by large mining pools.

Moreover, blockchain phones provide native support for decentralized applications (dApps), removing the need for a centralized app store. dApps also tend to be cheaper and faster to use and maintain. For instance, today’s most prominent app stores (Google Play Store and the Apple App Store) can demand from 10% to as much as 30% of each app sale in addition to a developer fee – a markup developers usually pass on to their users.

Blockchain-Powered Smartphones

Although blockchain smartphones have yet to conquer the mainstream, a select few have left a mark in the industry, paving the way for future iterations and more suitable applications. Starting with HTC’s 2018 release, below is a list of notable attempts to create blockchain smartphones:

HTC Exodus 1 and 1s

The 2018 HTC Exodus was the first significant blockchain integration in a smartphone, followed closely by the Exodus 1s – its slightly pricier companion. These phones featured a built-in hardware wallet allowing users to store and manage cryptocurrencies securely on their phones.

One outstanding feature of the Exodus 1 and 1s was HTC’s proprietary private vault – Zion – and its Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). The TEE activates when authorizing transactions and temporarily isolates the operating system to protect your data. In addition, a social key recovery feature lets users split their recovery phrase between a handful of their contacts.

Finney by Sirin Labs

A few months after HTC’s attempt, Israeli-based Sirin Labs launched their “ultra-secure, open-source smartphone” – The Finney phone. It offered premium specifications for its time, including a 12MP/8MP camera, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a premium finish with metal and Gorilla glass. On the inside, the device runs on a security layer called Sirin OS that protects it from cyberattacks and malicious DApps

The Finney phone also features a dual-screen design with a second screen on the back that slides upwards and serves as an interactive crypto wallet. Inside this slideout screen is a walled-off OS that holds the user’s crypto keys and tokens behind a secure firewall. Unfortunately, the phone did not reach mass adoption following problems with inconsistent marketing and several name changes.

Pundi X Blok on Blok

The original Pundi XPhone sported a more mainstream smartphone design, but the Blok on Blok challenged the status quo; merging modularity and blockchain technology. The BOB was a feast for the senses, sporting an array of snap-together attachments – complete with latches and dials.

In line with their vision to make cryptocurrency and decentralization accessible to everyone, the company behind the XPhone and Blok on Blok claims their blockchain smartphones can operate independently of centralized carriers. The phones run on a Function X protocol, enabling users to make calls, send messages, and browse the web through an on-chain peer-to-peer network.

Despite its critically acclaimed November 2018 release, the Xphone failed to gain widespread adoption. Pundi X seems to have moved on from the project, focusing now on its XWallet app and Crypto PoS machines.

Electromeum M1

The Electroneum M1 is as cheap as blockchain smartphones get and targets people in developing countries. At just $80, the Electromeum M1 lacks any crypto-specific hardware or capabilities, but it can mine cryptocurrency – even in offline mode!

Users can earn up to $3 per month in ETN tokens by leveraging Electroneum’s cloud mining service, making the M1 a phone that can pay itself off. Additionally, it comes with 4G connectivity, dual SIMs, and a dual-camera system. The M1 will also feature Electroneum’s AnyTasks platform, providing users access to the global digital economy for remote work.

HTC Desire 22 Pro

HTC is back with yet another blockchain-powered smartphone after ushering in the era of blockchain smartphones in 2018. Released mid-last year, HTC’s latest Desire 22 Pro features access to a bespoke Metaverse environment via HTC’s Viverse ecosystem. The Viverse platform is built around Virtual Reality and powered by AI and blockchain technology. 

Following in its predecessors’ footsteps, the HTC Desire 22 Pro is a functional and affordable device. At $400, users typically don’t expect too much from conventional smartphones. However, in addition to a set of standard blockchain-specific features, the Desire 22 Pro has a few tricks up its sleeves. Users are treated to a rich metaverse experience, allowing them to stream VR content from their phones directly to a VIVE headset or even hook up to the Viverse platform to play, create, connect, and explore.

Solana Saga

Initially created by OSOM, the Saga is backed by Solana Labs, the company behind the Solana token and blockchain. Its announcement brought a new wave of excitement and attention to the blockchain smartphone scene.

Among other noteworthy features is the Solana Mobile Stack (SMS) Software Development Kit (SDK), a Web3-first SDK that provides developers the tools to create and customize applications, games, or experiences and publish them directly to Solana’s dedicated dApp store. The Saga even integrates Solana Pay for QR code payments, allowing you to sign transactions with a swipe of the phone’s fingerprint sensor.

The Solana Saga also features a central custody wallet – the Seed Vault – that secures cryptocurrency assets within an encrypted vault in the phone, hidden from even the Android Operating System.

Final Thoughts

Blockchain phones may not be where they need to be, but these attempts have left their mark on the industry, paving the way for innovation and more suitable applications. Some quirks need to be ironed out, and cryptocurrencies remain an unproven store of value for most of the world’s population. But regardless of your thoughts about them, however, the smartphone industry seems to be paying attention to blockchain-powered smartphones, and maybe tech enthusiasts should too.