HTC is doubling down on its blockchain phone idea.
The company has announced a new blockchain phone called the Exodus 1s. Compared to its predecessor, the $699 Exodus 1, the Exodus 1s is a cheaper phone, but it also brings an important feature that was promised from the get-go: full Bitcoin node capability.
Launched on Saturday by HTC’s Decentralized Chief Officer Phil Chen (I just love that title) in New York, the HTC Exodus 1s will cost around $250 to $300 when it launches in the third quarter of 2019.
No specs were revealed, but the important news is that every Exodus 1s phone will have full Bitcoin node capabilities. This may sound somewhat arcane even for cryptocurrency users, the vast majority of whom don’t run a full node, but it has important implications for the Bitcoin ecosystem.
“Full nodes are the most important ingredient in the resilience of the Bitcoin network and we have lowered the barrier to entry for any person to run a node, which is simply a computer, mobile in our case, participating in a global bitcoin network that propagates transactions and blocks everywhere, which is the foundation and fundamental definition of a peer-to-peer cash system,” Chen said in a statement.
Running a full Bitcoin node means having a copy of Bitcoin’s entire blockchain history on the device, as well as running a Bitcoin client, meaning you can send transactions to the network. It’s not necessary to do this — to send and receive bitcoins, you can simply use wallet software — but it does make Bitcoin more decentralized if more people run their own node.
The issue with running a full node on your computer, let alone on your phone, is the fact that Bitcoin’s blockchain is quite big (more than 200GB at writing time) and syncing the blockchain can take a lot of time. You’d also need to have your phone connected to the internet all the time (and send/receive a lot of data) if you don’t want to fall behind because again, syncing the blockchain takes time. This will constantly suck both large amounts of data and battery life from your phone. These issues can be alleviated by various methods, but they are significant, so I’ve asked HTC to clarify.
I’ve got an answer from Chen himself, who acknowledged these hurdles, but hasn’t completely convinced me that the company will be able to overcome all of them. The size of Bitcoin’s blockchain can be drastically reduced with a technique called pruning, he said.
“The full ledger can also be pruned down to approximately 10GB. The phone itself can support the pruned version, but to support the full bitcoin blockchain, the user will have an extra SD card on board,” Chen said. Using a pruned version of the blockchain would also make syncing faster, he said.
So what about the data and the power demands? “You’ll definitely want to operate this over WiFi,” said Chen. “More specific details will come on spec nearer the launch time but yes, there are a number of different design elements that need to be taken into account to be able to handle this.”
(Note that mining bitcoin and running a node are two different things; you will not be able to mine bitcoins on this phone, and it wouldn’t make much sense anyway, as any phone’s computational power is far too weak to effectively mine bitcoins.)
HTC also announced partnership with European, privacy-mindful search engine Qwant, which will be available as a search bar widget on the Exodus 1 phone. The company also announced support for Ethereum blockchain explorer Etherscan, again through a widget.