The Taiwanese smartphone creator HTC has been working on what it calls "the world's first major blockchain phone – the Exodus." While not technically the first blockchain phone (that title goes to the failed Solarin handset by Sirin) the Exodus boasts some notable features and even more notable ambitions.
HTC hopes Exodus phones can be used to improve data privacy by decentralizing the internet through popularizing blockchain technology. It hopes to increase the user base for Dapps and to promote the growth and decentralization of the Ethereum and Bitcoin networks by making every Exodus phone a node. Additionally, the Exodus offers a hardware wallet and offline data storage for users to store their cryptocurrency, digital identities, and other private data.
HTC's chief crypto officer Phil Chen commented:
"In the new internet age, people are generally more conscious about their data. This is a perfect opportunity to empower the user to start owning their digital identity. The Exodus is a great place to start because the phone is the most personal device, and it is also the place where all your data originates from. I'm excited about the opportunity it brings to decentralize the internet and reshape it for the modern user."
It is a big promise, and there are a lot of unknowns.
For one, the phone's specs have yet to be released, so it is impossible to determine what it will truly be capable of.
Blockchains are known for requiring a good deal of processing power and storage capacity to mine blocks and store them all, and its nodes that do this work. At least for the time being, it is unlikely a phone would be able to act as a full node, but exact processing and storage capacity requirements for clients is hard to come by. However, a high-end mobile device is be capable of running a what's called a light node. According to Chen, the Exodus will act as a light node. Light client protocols are faster, more energy efficient, and generally more practical for the user than a full node anyway, but there are limitations.
For example, light nodes rely on full nodes for full security, and are not capable of mining. There is no inherent risk in having a lot of light nodes, as long as the mining pool is decentralized and the light clients can trust the full nodes. But because they are incapable of mining, having more light nodes will not improve decentralization of mining pools.
If successful, HTC could do a lot to increase public awareness of and trust in blockchain technology. If it flops, it could be a hard hit to an emerging technology already surrounded by concerns about mining pool centralization, scalability, bugs, security, and hacks.
However, in somewhat of a double bind, it seems possible that if the phone succeeds, it may threaten existing blockchain networks because of the technology's current scalability limitations. In fact, one of the Exodus' selling points is that CryptoKitties, the game perhaps best known for clogging the Ethereum blockchain, is available on a number of HTC devices, including the Exodus.
On the other hand, consumer interest in the technology may lead to more minds working to speed the development of solutions.
This will not be the first time HTC has been a pioneer in tech. Back in 2008, HTC released the first Android handset, the T-Mobile G1, and the company did a lot to popularize the OS. It is unclear if the Exodus will run on Android or a blockchain-specific system like Zippie.
But it has been a while since the glory days. In recent years, HTC has receded in popularity and has struggled to stay afloat. Apparently, last month, the company's sales fell 68 percent.
Due to a miscommunication with HTC, an earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated that the Exodus would be released the week of July 9 - 13, 2018.