HTC Exodus 1 Combines Blockchain & Android, Can't Be Bought With Cash

HTC on Tuesday officially announced the Exodus 1, its first blockchain-centric Android smartphone which it has been teasing for several months now. Contrary to most industry expectations, the Exodus 1 isn’t being advertised as a finished product but an early-access device targeting tech enthusiasts interested in fully embracing digital ledgers. The unique nature of this proposition also means you won’t even be able to buy it with cash as HTC will only be shipping it in exchange for select cryptocurrencies. In other words, this is a product that’s clearly aimed at people who aren’t just dabbling in crypto coins but are already fully on board with them.

Introducing the HTC U12+... no, wait, the Exodus 1!

While its software isn’t identical for obvious reasons, the Exodus 1 is essentially the U12+, the only Android flagship HTC introduced this year until today. It features the same transparent rear panel, as well as a 6-inch QHD+ display with an elongated aspect ratio of 18:9, i.e. 2:1. 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space are part of the package as well, as is a 16-megapixel dual-camera setup on the back. The slim top bezel of the handset features a familiar 8-megapixel system which also utilizes two lenses, whereas all of that hardware is fueled by a Qualcomm-made Snapdragon 845 drawing power from a 3,500mAh battery. IP68-certified resistance to dust particles and water is another key feature of the Exodus 1, with the phone itself running a custom implementation of Android Oreo. In other words, this is basically the better of the two U12+ models with some software additions HTC made to cater to the crypto crowd.

What makes the Exodus 1 “a blockchain smartphone?”

One of the main functionalities of the Exodus 1 is a “secure enclave” HTC added to the handset, which is effectively a partition meant to hold one’s crypto keys and tokens. It operates independently of the Android side of things and should hence be as secure as current technologies allow it to be. Instead of relying on the cloud, the Exodus 1’s trusted zone stores sensitive information locally so as to improve the overall security of one’s data by eliminating a potential attack vector - cloud providers. The enclave in question can save both currencies and non-fungible tokens.

Anyone who dabbled in cryptocurrencies can tell you that convenience — or a lack thereof — is the biggest issue with using something like Bitcoin as an everyday payment method. That goes double for scenarios wherein you have to recover a lost account as doing so can often be next to impossible. HTC is trying to solve that issue with something it calls a “Social Key Recovery” system meant to ensure your data and crypto coins stay yours even if your Exodus 1 is stolen or lost, or if you simply forgot your password. The method has yet to be fully explained by the manufacturer but is described as a decentralized solution, meaning HTC doesn’t hold your sensitive information in any single location that could be compromised. In practice, the mechanism functions like something resembling a vouching system - setting it up will require you to pick several trustworthy contacts who will download an Android key management app, then split the ownership of the information you need to access your funds. So, should you find yourself without access to your wallet, regaining it should be as simple as having your trusted contacts vouch that you are who you say you are via the same app. HTC has yet to clarify what would happen if two people from the same network lost access to their accounts simultaneously.

Actually, it’s not really a smartphone as much as a movement (attempt)

The manner in which HTC is describing the Exodus 1 makes this device seem like less of a smartphone and more as a start of a mobile blockchain movement. The company is hence calling for all interested developers to join its online community in an attempt to shape the future of digital ledgers and how they’re used in conjunction with Android and other smartphones. APIs allowing for communication with all unique capabilities of the Exodus 1 will be open-sourced “soon,” the firm said. The tools will include a waller SDK and a Zion key management API, with the ultimate goal being to establish an ecosystem of devices that aren’t just used for securing one’s cryptocurrency but all of their data. Decentralized apps and contemporary digital assets won’t have a future without such products, HTC claims.

In other words, calling the Exodus 1 “a blockchain smartphone” is still a stretch, much like some critics already pointed out, as its capabilities related to digital ledgers are rather limited. However, the handset is being positioned as the first step toward the full-fledged commercialization of that concept and not a finished product, so how it ends up impacting the industry will largely depend on the blockchain community’s willing to follow HTC’s lead. The average consumer hence shouldn’t be looking at this device for their next daily driver and HTC itself is essentially saying as much. Whether the company can afford to pursue such an ambitious project given its current financial state is another question altogether, though the Exodus 1 likely didn’t consume a significant chunk of its resources seeing how it’s essentially a slightly repurposed U12+.

Cash? Who uses cash these days?

HTC is selling the Exodus 1 via htcexodus.com and is only accepting payments in Bitcoin and Ethereum. The unconventional flagship will set you back 0.15 BTC or 4.78 ETH, which amounts to approximately $960 based on the exchange rates from Tuesday morning PST. HTC didn’t clarify whether the price tag will fluctuate along with the value of the world’s two most popular cryptocurrencies.

The handset is scheduled to start shipping in December, with its initial launch encompassing 34 markets, including the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Norway, Austria, and a number of other European countries. The Taipei-based original equipment manufacturer has yet to attach any public expectations to the product, though the niche nature of the device will likely prevent it from being a major hit, especially given how its availability will be even more limited than that of HTC’s conventional handsets which have already been disappearing from portfolios of wireless carriers and other distributors all around the world in recent years.

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