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HTC’s blockchain phone now pairs with Opera – but that hardly makes it useful

Unfortunately, it's not the game-changer the blockchain industry has been waiting for

opera, ethereum, cryptocurrency

Remember the Exodus 1 – HTC‘s attempt at building an ultra-secure phone for the blockchain? Well, thanks to a collaboration with Opera, the device now seamlessly pairs with the browser and its built-in cryptocurrency wallet, making it a tad bit easier to interact with the decentralized web.

This means Opera users can now access their wallet, transact cryptocurrency, and log in to various Ethereum-based services in a matter of a few clicks. But while this might sound like a huge UI improvement, there are a few things we should address.

Let’s get into it.

How Opera’s cryptocurrency wallet works on the Exodus 1

To take advantage of the new functionality, Exodus 1 users need to install the latest software update (1.57.709.2), which is already rolling out over-the-air. In addition to a few pre-installed blockchain apps (which you can get on any Android handset), the update also brings a revamped version of Zion – HTC‘s “hardware-backed” private key management system.

Zion, which also doubles as a cryptocurrency wallet, is the system underpinning the Exodus 1. It’s ultimately a private key storage platform which resides on a “secure enclave” inside the phone – a quarantined chip specifically built for handling cryptocurrency transactions in what HTC claims is a highly a secure manner.

So why on earth would you use Opera‘s wallet if Zion already does that? Well, this is where HTC‘s new Zion Key Management API comes into play. The phone-maker is releasing a standalone interface that lets third-party software developers make use of its Zion technology – and Opera is the first one to adopt it.

Instead of filling in your private keys (or mnemonic phrase) manually each time you need to spend some cryptocurrency, Opera now leverages Zion to let you sign into your wallet with just one click. This is possible since Zion already stores your private keys in Exodus 1’s secure enclave. The new Zion API merely lets you reuse them to access other services.

Once logged in, users can make transactions as they normally would with the Opera wallet; the only exception is that you will also need to enter your Zion passcode (a six-digit code selected by users) to confirm the transfer.

While the new feature is nothing particularly impressive, it’s certainly a lot more user-friendly than what most cryptocurrency holders are used to – and hopefully slightly more secure, thanks to HTC‘s dedicated enclave.

But there is one big shortcoming: the new Zion management API is exclusive to the Exodus 1. So unless you are willing to shell out $700 for the handset, you won’t be able to use Opera‘s new feature.

Where things fall short

Smooth user experience aside, experts note that smartphones – even those coming with additional cryptocurrency-specific security measures – aren’t particularly well-suited for storing large amounts of coins. Instead, you might be better off getting a specialized hardware wallet solution. As the old adage goes: complexity is the enemy of security.

This brings an interesting conundrum: the Exodus 1 is not secure enough to use as a legit cryptocurrency storage solution, and too expensive to justify buying as a smartphone.

In a way, the only good use for the device is to interact with Ethereum-based apps. Unfortunately, there is hardly any activity on these apps in the first place. Opera and HTC hope collaborations like this one will change this, but this strikes me as a long shot at present.

In an interview last November, HTC decentralized chief officer Phil Chen candidly admitted the company doesn’t consider the Exodus 1 a top priority. “I don’t think it’s number one on the priority list, but I would say it’s number three or four,” he shared.

This rings true to the collaboration between Opera and HTC, too. The new integration is fun to use, but it’s far from the game-changer the blockchain industry needs to break into the mainstream.

Published February 26, 2019 — 08:00 UTC