On the surface, two new smartphones in the works from a cellphone giant and a feisty startup don’t seem that different from others on the market. Both the HTC Exodus and Sirin Labs’ Finney will have app stores. Both will allow users to play games. Both will facilitate real-world purchases.

But everything else, their developers argue, is radically different. Vying for the title of the world’s first native blockchain smartphone, the Exodus and Finney could conceivably transform the decentralization movement in much the same way the iPhone transformed mobile computing a decade ago.

HTC and Sirin Labs envision their respective phones playing a central role in the blockchain ecosystem.

“In the new internet age, people are generally more conscious about their data, [and] this is a perfect opportunity to empower the user to start owning their digital identity,says HTC’s Phil Chen, who is referred to as the company’s “chief crypto officer” and “decentralized chief officer.” Smartphones, Chen adds, are “the most personal device, and it is also the place where all your data originates from.”

Baked-in Blockchain

While existing smartphones can run apps that allow their owners to do everything from investing in cryptocurrencies to mining them directly, the Exodus and Finney will be different,  their backers stress.

Both will include dedicated hardware that essentially allows the phones to serve as secure hardware wallets for a broad range of existing cryptocurrencies. HTC and Sirin Labs also envision their respective phones playing a central role in the blockchain ecosystem.

Sirin is developing its own fee-free independent blockchain network allowing microtransactions using its SRN token. Uses include paying for distributed apps (dapps) and for paying others for sharing data connections, battery power and even spare processing time. Sirin also envisions Finney-branded personal computers and the possibility of other manufacturers adopting its operating system for their own products.

For the Exodus, HTC plans compatibility with multiple existing networks with the goal of promoting interoperability and “doubling and even tripling the number of nodes of Ethereum and bitcoin (BTC) as its own way of promoting decentralization, according to the Exodus website.

Both phones emphasize connections with the cryptocurrency community. The Finney is named for the late Hal Finney, the bitcoin pioneer who conducted the first transaction with Satoshi Nakamoto, the name used by bitcoin’s mysterious creator.

And the Exodus got its own boost this week when litecoin (LTC) creator Charlie Lee came on board as an adviser, announcing in a tweet that the HTC phone would support the currency he created, as well as the Lightning Network.

“I see having a secure crypto phone that makes [the network] simple is needed for mass adoption,” Lee said in a tweet.

And much as popular games like Pac-Man helped accelerate the mass adoption of home gaming consoles a generation ago, HTC is betting one of the few blockchain-era diversions that’s gained mainstream attention will draw eyes to its phone.

In July, HTC announced it will be the exclusive mobile distributor of CryptoKitties, the token-based collectible game that garnered broad attention last year. The partnership with CryptoKitties developer Axiom Zen is what HTC hopes will be “just the beginning of a nonfungible collectible marketplace and crypto gaming app store,” the company said in a series of tweets. “We believe there is a paradigm shift and the pendulum is swinging back to ownership and the value of content.”

David vs. Goliath?

While both the Exodus and the Finney are expected to cost around $1,000, according to published accounts, it’s not clear when either one will be available. (On July 19, Chen posted on Twitter an open box, its contents obscured. “Exodus prototype hiding!” he tweeted.) The Sirin site gives no indication of a release date.

Sirin announced the Finney in October while the Exodus was unveiled in May. HTC is promising an “early access” preview in the third quarter, while Sirin’s phone is available for preorder after a token presale raised nearly $158 million last December.

The Exodus-Finney rivalry is drawing comparisons to other battles between established companies and innovative outsiders. HTC has shipped more than 100 million smartphones worldwide while Sirin Labs’ launch product, the Solarin smartphone featuring “military grade” security, cost $14,000 when it was released in 2016.

HTC’s infrastructure is massive,” one Twitter user wrote. “An ICO-based company cannot compete with a tech giant with decades of experience.”

A Finney backer responded, “So like why are you into crypto if you don’t think David can beat Goliath?”

Mark Toner
Mark Toner is a Washington, D.C., writer and editor. He has covered business, technology, media, education, and healthcare for a wide range of trade and industry publications.