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July 7, 2022

Nothing and Solana will test consumer appetites for Web3-enabled phones

Two new phones from Nothing and Solana indicate a sea change in the integration of blockchain and Web3 concepts into the mobile environment. However, it is far from clear whether this nascent trend will gain mass market appeal anytime soon.

On July 5, Polygon, a startup focused on blockchain networks compatible with the Ethereum cryptocurrency, announced its technology will be integrated into the new Android-based phone (1) being unveiled on July 12 by UK startup Nothing. Nothing’s claim to Web3 fame is that its non-fungible token (NFT) loyalty program will be built on Polygon. The long-term goal of the partnership is to enable secure access to Web3 applications for Nothing’s phone products and other ecosystem devices.

News of the Nothing-Polygon partnership arrived less than two weeks after Solana Labs, purveyor of a web-scale blockchain and cryptocurrency ecosystem, announced Saga, its Android-based mobile phone, which is slated for delivery in early 2023. The phone, from San Francisco-based Solana’s new subsidiary Solana Mobile, is designed to merge the mobile environment with the decentralized Web3 experience.

Key to Saga’s crypto functionality is the Solana Mobile Stack. This open-source toolkit includes, among other things, the Mobile Wallet Adapter, a protocol spec for connecting apps to crypto wallets on mobile devices, and support for Solana Pay, the company’s decentralized, open, peer-to-peer payment protocol for transactions using the Solana cryptocurrency or digital dollar currencies such as USDC.

The Saga phone will sell for $1,000 in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. Unlike the Saga phone, the Nothing phone [1] will not be sold in North America but will be available in the UK, Europe and India, starting at €469.99.

Everything old is new again for Nothing and Solana

The Nothing and Solana phones both have their roots in older products. Nothing is the brainchild of Carl Pei, co-founder of OnePlus, which he left in October 2020 to launch Nothing, whose phone (1) will be a mid-range Android 12 model running the Nothing OS. Much of the mystery and hype around Nothing’s phone (1) replicate earlier efforts to launch and market OnePlus devices.

The Saga has its roots in the now-defunct Essential Products, which was founded by Android creator Andy Rubin but shut down in February 2020 amid poor sales of its first smartphone and allegations of past sexual misconduct involving Rubin while he worked at Google. Essential’s former head of R&D, Jason Keats, subsequently founded OSOM to develop a privacy-first handset, the OSOM OV1. That phone never launched and is now being replaced by Solana’s Saga, which is being designed and manufactured by OSOM.

Groundbreaking as they might appear, the phone (1) and Saga are not the first blockchain-enabled phones. In 2018, Sirin Labs launched the Finney smartphone with a built-in offline crypto wallet for retaining bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital tokens keys, including Sirin’s own SRN token. In 2019, rival HTC launched the Exodus 1, which had its own crypto wallet and could only be purchased using crypto.

More recently, HTC’s new Desire 22 Pro is primarily focused on virtual reality but also includes the  preloaded Viveverse app that manages cryptocurrency and NFTs. Additionally, rival Samsung introduced the Samsung Blockchain Wallet with the Galaxy S10 in 2019 and in 2021 enabled blockchain users to manage and trade virtual assets from third-party wallets on many Samsung Galaxy smartphones.

These early efforts at supporting blockchain, cryptocurrency and decentralization concepts in mobile phones are primarily geared toward product differentiation and have little appeal for mainstream consumers right now. Nonetheless, they are driving Web3 developments that augur the future of mobile devices.