HTC Exodus 1 Blockchain Phone: Price, Specs, Availability
In May, when HTC first announced its so-called blockchain smartphone, the Exodus 1, details were scarce. It felt, perhaps, more like buzzword refrigerator magnet poetry than an actual product. As of Tuesday, though, you can actually buy one—and of course, you can only do so using cryptocurrency.
While the device itself won’t ship until early December, you can finally place a preorder here; it’ll cost you either 0.15 Bitcoin or 4.78 Ethereum. At the time of writing, that’s just north of $950. For that, you get a smartphone with objectively solid hardware: The Exodus 1 comes with 6 GB of RAM, a top-shelf Snapdragon 845 processor, and a 16-megapixel dual rear camera, all flagship-quality specs.
But you didn’t come here for specs! You came here for the blockchain, and what it means to marry it to a smartphone. HTC has some ideas—and has certainly said more about it than it did in May—but in truth, the company sounds like it’s just as curious to find out as you are.
“The first step is to empower and educate the consumer to own their own keys,” says Phil Chen, HTC’s decentralized chief officer, referring to the cryptographic keys that allow you to access your cryptocurrencies. “From there, that will help expand the blockchain ecosystem and lead to people owning their own data and digital property in the near future.”
Let’s dawdle on that first step, especially since the longer-term implications of decentralized digital identity and blockchain phones are, well, much longer-term. Even the Exodus 1, Chen openly acknowledges, is effectively a beta device, albeit a fairly expensive one. And at this point in the project’s infancy, its primary job is to help you keep track of your Bitcoin and Ethereum. In other words, it’s not for everyone.
Instead, the Exodus 1 tries to find middle ground between the inconvenience of cold storage, and the added risks of centralized markets. Earlier this year, for instance, hackers stole $532 million from Japan’s Coincheck exchange.
‘A private key protected by special hardware architecture and OS interface can be far more secure.’
Vipul Goyal, Carnegie Mellon University
HTC offers instead the use of a quarantined section of ARM-based processors called TrustZone to store your cryptocurrency keys. Think of it as Android’s answer to the Secure Enclave that keeps biometric info from Face ID and Touch ID safe on the iPhone. That should make it safer than, say, a software-based wallet, which would be hypothetically more vulnerable to broader attacks on the Android operating system—of which there are several.
“A private key protected by special hardware architecture and OS interface can be far more secure than one stored by a wallet app downloaded from an app store,” says Vipul Goyal, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. “Another advantage could be battery efficiency. If common blockchain operations are supported natively by the hardware and OS, they could consume less battery. For the same reason, these operations could also be much faster.”
It’s not a perfect solution; TrustZone exploits do exist, for instance. But in the absence of perfect security, as Chen argued in a previous interview with WIRED, “it’s the best so far.”
Even if you do put your trust in TrustZone, a more pressing question for most people might be what happens if your phone gets lost, stolen, or damaged beyond repair. For that possibility, HTC has developed what it calls “social key recovery,” where your pick three to five friends, have them download a special app, and let an algorithm split your recovery key among them. If you misplace your Exodus 1, you can call on them to Voltron your wallet back—assuming you haven’t had a falling out, or they misplaced their own phone along the way, or one of them died, and so on.
“When enough of your friends lose their data, your key backups will become unrecoverable,” says Matthew Green, a cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University who is affiliated with a privacy-focused cryptocurrency called Zcash. “It’s certainly theoretically feasible. Whether or not it will work well in practice is the real question.”
In fact, that seems like the real question for many of the Exodus 1’s loftier aims. In addition to launching the hardware, HTC says it will soon release APIs so developers can use its blockchain smartphone to protect keys and sign transactions. It’s also actively courting cryptocurrency experts and enthusiasts both to help strengthen the device’s security, and to help figure out what this burgeoning technology can and should do, exactly.
“The goal is to start with the blockchain community and get its assistance in making our wallet and the technology even more secure,” says Chen. “We are openly inviting the community and potential partners who share our vision to collaborate with us to bring in more applications and to help new users to understand the technology. This should be a collaborative work with the whole blockchain community to help expand the ecosystem.”
Which sounds like a bit of a punt. The Exodus 1 exists, and Chen genuinely believes it can help usher in the age of mass decentralization, where you truly control your data and your identity. How to get there from here, though, seemingly remains a mystery to HTC as well. It’s a foundation without much of a blueprint.
At least HTC’s not alone in trying to figure it all out. In addition to whoever buys and experiments with the Exodus 1, there’s the aforementioned Sirin Labs Finney, as well as the SikurPhone, which has a built-in cryptocurrency wallet, a custom operating system, and Sony-designed hardware. More will doubtless follow on their heels.
Credit to the creators for trying something new, which has long been something of an HTC specialty. But until it’s more clear what exactly you gain from the Exodus 1 or other blockchain phones—especially versus the cryptocurrency you stand to lose, say, in the back of a Lyft—it makes sense for most people to watch from the sidelines.
The Exodus 1 “is not for the mass market yet.” And that’s a quote from the team that made it.
This content was originally published here.