The Future of Blockchain-Enabled Smartphones

Smart Phone

Forget iOS. Forget Android. Your next smartphone could be powered by blockchain technology that enables a host of new features, from built-in cryptocurrency wallets to decentralized rewards systems.

That, at least, is what some entrepreneurs are hoping as they develop new blockchain-based solutions for smartphones.

The What and Why of Blockchain-Enabled Smartphones

At first glance, pairing blockchains with smartphones may not appear to make much sense. A smartphone is a real, physical thing; it can't really be built using a blockchain. And while many of the apps that run on a smartphone could be powered by blockchain technology, so could those that are designed for PCs or other platforms. Blockchain technology has no special role to play in mobile applications.

Yet, it's increasingly common to hear people discussing blockchain-enabled smartphones. What are they talking about?

A variety of things, actually. There are several use cases for blockchain technology on smartphones that are in various stages of development.

Smartphones With Built-In Cryptowallets

Probably the most obvious - but also least imaginative - use case for a blockchain on smartphones is to create phones with integrated digital wallets. Such phones would allow users to store their crypto assets on hardware devices, without requiring them to carry around USB sticks or other wallet solutions.

This is one of the core selling points of Sirin Labs ' Finney phone, which will reportedly debut in October 2018 and is being manufactured by Foxconn . (According to reports from earlier this spring, Sirin Labs has also been in talks with Huawei, which could potentially be developing a similar blockchain-based phone.)

In addition to allowing users to store digital tokens on a hardware device, the Finney, which will run a custom version of Android, will perform automatic, behind-the-scenes conversions between different types of tokens so that users can make online purchases seamlessly, without having to exchange tokens manually.

Technically speaking, automatic cryptocurrency conversion and purchasing functionality is not really a smartphone-specific feature. You could write an app to do the same thing on any platform. But by coupling this feature with an integrated hardware wallet, Sirin Labs hopes to offer a holistic, out-of-the-box solution for owning and using cryptocurrency.

The Finney is not the only smartphone in the works with an integrated digital wallet. A startup called Swiss Bank In Your Pocket appears to be developing a smartphone that features its own hardware, called BitVault . Details and a release date for the BitVault are not yet clear.

Token-Based Rewards

In another recent blockchain smartphone development, Blacture announced in early May 2018 that it is creating Motif , "a blockchain-based phone that pays you back." The device will reward users with digital tokens in exchange for performing activities like online shopping or sharing personal data.

Blacture has not yet revealed specifics about how the Motif rewards system will work, or exactly which opportunities smartphone users will have to earn rewards. The Motif phone will reportedly become available in fall 2018 for around $375.

The Finney will reportedly offer a similar way for users to earn rewards by hosting Wi-Fi hot spots through their phones and renting the connections to other people. While the core idea behind this feature does not require the blockchain - the owner of almost any modern smartphone could set up a hots pot and charge other people to use it - a blockchain could add value by simplifying and securing payments for Wi-Fi service.

Data and Network Security

Blockchain technology could potentially unlock new ways of securing the data that is stored on phones, as well as the data that cellular networks transmit between devices.

This is the use case that Rivetz and the major Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica are exploring . Similarly, Swiss Bank In Your Pocket will use blockchain technology to enable secure phone calls from smartphones on its BitVault phone, according to its website .

Blockchain-Based Phone Service

Perhaps the most ambitious use case for the blockchain in the smartphone market involves creating decentralized cellular networks that provide free cell phone service.

This is the goal of Mobilink-Coin (not to be confused with Mobilink , a Pakistani mobile operator). The company will provide cell phone voice and data service that it purchases from telecommunications companies and then distribute those services to Mobilink-Coin users at no cost, provided the users participate at a sufficient level on the Mobilink-Coin network. Mobilink-Coin will earn revenue from an ad platform, and the company says that this revenue will be sufficient to offset the cost of telco service.

Mobilink's development has been clouded by scam allegations , and it is unclear when the platform might actually launch. It's a safe bet, however, that plenty of smartphone users would find the offering of free cellular service enormously attractive, should Mobilink-Coin succeed.

Blockchain technology has a surprising number of use cases for smartphones. Those that appear slated to arrive soonest will involve blockchain smartphones featuring integrated hardware wallets and cryptocurrency payments systems. In the longer term, the blockchain may also help to secure smartphones data and communications - and it could potentially even save consumers hundreds of dollars per year by eliminating their cellular service bills, although that outcome seems less certain.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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