At TechCrunch Shenzhen, Phil Chen, decentralized chief officer at HTC, spoke about the company’s much-hyped blockchain phone and its shifting focus to blockchain and crypto.
So, is the blockchain-powered phone a hype or it is something potentially revolutionary?
Chen said with crypto and blockchain he saw, for the first time, tech’s potential to disrupt big centralized companies. Smartphones are the most accessible and ubiquitous devices where most of our data is generated, Chen said.
To empower users and allow them to “own their digital identity” and their data—smartphones would be a great place to start. Currently, user data and information are usually stored in the cloud, Chen said.
“Whether it is your identity, your purchasing behavior, your health data, your browsing behavior—none of this is own by you,” he said.
The Taiwan-based smartphone maker launched the early access for its first blockchain phone in October. The expected ship date for the device is in December. But to much of the audience’s disappointment, Chen did not showcase the phone on the TechCrunch stage.
According to Chen, the EXODUS 1 looks nearly identical to the company’s other models but it comes with a hardware wallet called Zion, which essentially allows users to hold their “private keys”—lines of code known only to the owner of cryptocurrency which allows them to have access to their funds. Chen said bit by bit users could start gaining ownership of their own data.
The company has come up with something called “social key recovery” function that lets a user regain access to their funds if they lose their phone through, a mechanism that involves a selected number of trusted contacts.
While all sounds very promising, many speculated that the smartphone maker’s decision to jump on the blockchain bandwagon was to save its sinking ship. In July, the company announced plans to slash 1,500 jobs at its manufacturing unit in Taiwan in the midst of declining sales.
“We are going through our transitional period,” Chen sees it as the company undergoing a shifting paradigm from hardware to software. The company shipped its first Android phone in 2008, Chen said, 10 years later it is ready to ship its first blockchain phone.
However, HTC’s blockchain head is “not betting on this to be an immediate success” for it still has many challenges ahead.
The company is focusing on solving the security problem—including the device’s secure enclave and trusted execution environment. Before anything else, Chen said, they need to make sure the security of the device is done right.