The HTC Exodus is being marketed as a phone for cryptocurrency enthusiasts. It has a "secure enclave" that's separate from the operating system and can store private keys.
But that's only part of it.
Chen says the phone is actually a "trojan horse" for "re-architecting the internet." Once consumers are familiar with its cryptocurrency capabilities, they'll be open to the concept of securely holding and controlling their personal data.
At first, Chen had a "moonshot idea" that would turn each phone into a blockchain node. "Because today, there's what, about 15,000 nodes for Bitcoin, maybe 17,000 nodes for Ethereum? And I believed, and I still believe this but we haven't solved this problem yet, that one day we can build a blockchain that empowers one person to be a node per phone," he said. That concept, though, would require each phone to do some serious computation. It's technically possible but realistically impractical with current mobile hardware.
Persuading HTC to follow through and actually release the Exodus wasn't simple. The conversation was, "Hey, this is where the world is heading to. It's heading towards pure big brother tyranny,'" Chen said.
"if you believe data is the new oil, these companies that are top 10 right now, they'll be top 10 for the next hundred years."
If the industry doesn't take action now, the top seven or eight companies will rule the world for a long, long time. "If you think data is the new digital oil," Chen said, "the oil companies dominated the industry for a hundred years, right? And if you believe data is the new oil, these companies that are top 10 right now, they'll be top 10 for the next hundred years. And they'll be even more powerful and more controlling than the oil companies of the past."
For HTC, then, a so-called "decentralized internet" is crucial for its survival. If the company ignores the problem and pumps out beautiful but otherwise typical Android phones, it will sleepwalk into a world where its destiny is controlled by other, larger and more powerful companies.