The phone that wants to change how the whole internet works
Amid all the hype of bendable phones at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a much quieter smartphone revolution may be unfolding.
Led by peripheral phone maker HTC, this new wave of phones look much the same as those that have come before it – at least on the outside. Inside, however, they contain the software needed to transform the entire internet as we know it, and in doing so take the power back from the technology giants that dominate it.
They are the so-called blockchain smartphones. Built around the decentralised web – or Web 3.0 – they cut out the internet's middlemen by running off a peer-to-peer network to send and receive information. The idea is to give people back control of their data and end the exploitation and monetisation of people's private lives by the likes of Facebook and Google.
HTC describes its Exodus 1 as "the first smartphone built for this new internet" and it is the brainchild of Phil Chen, the appropriately-titled 'decentralized chief officer' of the Taiwanese firm.
"We're this far into the information age and there's barely any conversation about digital property," Chen tells The Independent. "All of our private data – from credit history to search data – is handled by third parties. We don't own or control any of it. Instead, it is just seven companies in the world that control almost all of the data. They have become more powerful than governments."
The way to get the power back, Chen says, is to introduce a paradigm shift to the big data business models of these large tech companies, from the apps we use, to the way we pay.
These blockchain phones operate on the same underlying technology that supports bitcoin, so it is no surprise that cryptocurrencies form a key role in their operation.
At MWC, HTC is also introducing a new range of decentralised apps – or dApps – that do not share or send data back to a centralised company or server. Some apps even allow people to monetise their own data, by selling it for cryptocurrency.
Payments can also go the other way, meaning users can make micropayments directly to websites and content creators without the need for transaction fees.
Even the phone's default browser, Opera, supports such functionality, describing itself as the world's first crypto-ready browser.
"We are at the dawn of a new generation of the Web, one where new decentralized services will challenge the status quo," says Charles Hamel, head of crypto at Opera. "HTC and Opera have both made the bold decision to be the first to step up and enable this transformation."
The HTC Exodus can only be bought using cryptocurrency like bitcoin or ethereum (HTC)
Like other blockchain phones, such as the Sirin Finney, the HTC Exodus 1 comes with an in-built cryptocurrency wallet that can store private keys for bitcoin, ether and litecoin offline. By not being connected to the internet, this cold-storage wallet protects the funds from hacking, as well as a person's private data.
Until now, the HTC Exodus has only been available to buy in cryptocurrency but from March people will be able to purchase it using traditional fiat currency, with the eventual hope that the phone and the decentralised web will make it into the mainstream.
"I don't like calling it a blockchain phone because it's not just for crypto geeks," Chen says. "It's about the internet."
Source: The Independent UK