Is it too soon for Sirin Labs’ Finney blockchain smartphone?
The Finney is ready for cryptocurrency. But is cryptocurrency ready for the Finney?
Sirin Labs has formally unveiled the Finney blockchain smartphone. Sirin managed to pull off one of the highest-earning ICOs of 2017, with an almost $160 million token sale behind the production. Although the value of its haul might have been somewhat diminished over the following year.
The whitepaper proposed some very grand plans for the phone, although they're somewhat dependent on the advancement of the wider crypto ecosystem and so have come back to reality ahead of the launch. The Finney's key rival, the HTC Exodus blockchain smartphone, also currently for sale, went through a similar contraction of plans as it came closer to release.
Having said that, the main limit to what you can do with the Finney might be your imagination, the boundaries of the SIRIN OS, a Google-certified Android modification and the range of apps in the dCENTER, the Finney decentralised app (dapp) store.
Some of the applications outlined by Sirin include systems where 100% of app revenue can be paid directly to developers, seamless access to data marketplaces on someone's phone (as both a buyer and seller) and greater protection of their personal information.
And naturally it also comes with a built-in cryptocurrency hardware wallet, which takes a prominent position on the phone and can be slid out to verify transactions when needed. At the moment, this might be mostly useful for making payments or direct peer-to-peer transactions on the go, in a rather more familiar and intuitive way than other hardware wallets, piggybacking on a user's general familiarity with smartphones.
One of the main limitations might be that it hasn't made any major changes to the hardware wallet key recovery process. You'll still need to have that recovery phrase kept around to ensure you can access your funds if your phone is lost or damaged. It's a headache that you don't necessarily have with more traditional payment systems and one that the everyday non-crypto user which the Finney is aimed at might not be too thrilled with.
The HTC Exodus is taking a different route of solving that problem, with a built-in secret sharing system that allows you to divide your private keys among several trusted contacts. Then, if something happens to your phone and its built-in hardware wallet you can get the key pieces from those contacts and re-assemble it to get back at your funds.
But, therein lies an example of some of the huge potential for the Finney dapp store and blockchain access. The Finney primarily interfaces with Ethereum and there's likely nothing stopping someone downloading and using their own Ethereum-based secret sharing dapp to manage their private keys.
Visiting the dapp store
Like most smartphones, the Finney might be largely about the (d)app store. Unlike most smartphones, the Sirin Labs dCENTER will initially and hopefully continually be about rewarding people for engaging with the apps.
According to Sirin Labs co-founder and CEO Moshe Hogeg, someone will be able to pull about $300 of tokens by engaging with all the apps available at launch time, through a system described by the company as "Earn and Learn". That's a considerable portion of the phone's US$999 price tag.
This might help encourage people to play with blockchain potential in more detail than they might otherwise and start looking at options like secret sharing dapps for private key recovery, trading mobile data as easily as sending any other payment or probing a range of potentially profitable-for-the-player blockchain mobile games.
Sirin Labs will also be opening up some brick-and-mortar stores, with flagship stores in London and New York set to open in December 2018 and January 2019 respectively. These might also go some way towards educating people on what's possible with blockchain smartphones.
The possibilities are also likely to expand as the cryptocurrency ecosystem does and if the more optimistic predictions of a crypto future hold, having some kind of accessible blockchain hardware wallet on your phone might one day be the norm.
Hardware wallets are for managing data, not just money
On one level this is because blockchains present a very useful paradigm for handling sensitive information such as personal ID. You can also securely store and transmit, when needed, that kind of data on the Finney's hardware wallet. Picture, for example, using your phone to scan a QR code to verify that you're over 18 rather than showing a driver's licence or being able to get instantly AML/KYC verified as long as your phone is with you, rather than needing to go through the procedure over and over again. It's worth remembering that the Finney hardware wallet can theoretically let you manage just about any kind of data. Bitcoin and Ether are just two examples of data the wallet can manage.
Frictionless micropayments make everything better
On another level, this is because the ability to integrate frictionless micropayments into everyday services is a game changer, allowing new blockchain startups to disrupt incumbents very effectively.
Consider the current race to the bottom in rideshare apps. The winner is basically whichever can offer the cheapest rides within applicable regulatory boundaries. So, if a new app is released which can cut out almost all the overhead associated with managing payments and let riders negotiate directly with drivers while skimming only a flat few cents for itself, you have a new winner. These kinds of apps might come to phones of all kinds, but those with built-in hardware wallets will allow the most reliable and secure use of them.
Basically the best of the best apps will eventually have to use blockchain technology. Providing the cheapest and most rewarding services will mean using blockchain and cryptocurrency and this means finding some kind of suitable hardware wallet solution. Built-in phone hardware wallets are a promising avenue.
The Finney might still be a bit early to the party though, which isn't necessarily great for products that age as quickly as phones do. Sirin Labs' commercial success might not be quite as assured as the eventual success of cryptocurrency itself. Leveraging the potential of the dCENTER to show what blockchain can really do – and why it might be better to do it with the Finney instead of another phone – could be key.
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