23 January 2019
HTC is betting on the blockchain technology to boost its image as an innovative smartphone maker. Photo: Bloomberg
HTC is betting on the blockchain technology to boost its image as an innovative smartphone maker. Photo: Bloomberg

Can a blockchain smartphone save HTC?

For Taiwan smartphone maker HTC, this year is crucial for its business development as it needs to demonstrate its capability as a stand-alone smartphone maker after it sold its ODM business to Google for US$1.1 billion.

HTC is streamlining its smartphone business and putting more resources into its Vive virtual reality headset. Still, smartphone is the company’s core business.

It is set to unveil its 2018 flagship smartphone today. According to media reports, the phone is called U12+. With a six-inch screen and dual rear and dual front cameras, the phone will run on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 platform. It will be priced at around HK$6,000 per unit.

For loyal HTC fans, the phone is a must-buy, considering that the company launches only one flagship product each year. Market watchers, however, note that the U12+ doesn’t seem to have new features to attract buyers. 

Of course, the double dual cameras could be a selling point. But other players such as Huawei and Xiaomi are a step ahead as they are incorporating artificial intelligence technology to enable their phone cameras to take pictures smartly.

The market has seldom heard of HTC deploying AT technology, and it is highly unlikely that the company will use it on its latest flagship. Hence, the U12+ could be just a smartphone without specific features to outshine competitors like Xiaomi, Huawei, Samsung and Apple.

However, just prior to the launch of its new flagship, HTC surprised the market by announcing the launch of the Exodus smartphone, which isbased on the popular but controversial blockchain technology with the support of cryptocurrency trading.

The Taiwanese firm revealed its vision of the future of smartphones at the recent Consensus 2018 cryptocurrency conference in New York, where it announced the use of blockchain technology to support cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum.

“Our vision is to expand the blockchain ecosystem by creating the world’s first phone dedicated to decentralized applications and security,” HTC states on a website dedicated to the new device.

“With the release of the HTC Exodus, we can now make this a reality… We believe we can help reshape the internet.”

HTC Exodus will feature a native cryptocurrency wallet that would allow users to make and accept cryptocurrency payments to other devices, while each device would also act as a node to allow cryptocurrency trading among users.

The device will also support decentralized apps through the phone’s hardware, which it claims would be more secure than standard apps.

No images of the Exodus smartphone have been released beyond a blueprint of its components, nor was the price or release date announced.

The concept of a decentralized device may sound revolutionary, but there are already software applications that allow the functions that the Exodus boasts.

While many in the cryptocurrency sector welcomed the device, some are doubtful. They say HTC could just be riding on the “blockchain” trend to market its device.

Besides, not too many smartphone users have embraced the concept of cryptocurrencies, much less use them for their transactions. 

A major hindrance is that cryptocurrencies have yet to receive official recognition. In fact, most business leaders, institutions and regulators have warned the public against them.

The decentralized process that underlines blockchain technology may be a key trend in the future, but the technology itself must be integrated into the current financial and trading systems in order to gain legitimacy and be accepted by the public.

That said, HTC’s foray into the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology could be a risky bet. 

In fact, this is not the first time that the blockchain technology has been incorporated into a smartphone. London-based Sirin Labs unveiled a blockchain-powered phone and PC last year. The US$999 Finney smartphone is set to be released later this year and will also feature a cryptocurrency wallet.

Is it too early to bet on cryptocurrency as the next mobile killer application after iPhone? Well, some phonemakers are only too eager to make the bet.

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EJ Insight writer

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