Sirin Labs is an Israeli smartphone manufacturer that’s creating the world’s first blockchain smartphone: Finney. They raised an enormous amount of money in 2017 to do so, and they’re endorsed by famous celebrities. So who’s the team behind Sirin Labs? What has the company done already? And what makes the Finney special? Does the first blockchain phone mark a special point for blockchain, or is it not worth the money? Continue reading to find out.
The Team Behind Sirin Labs
Sirin Labs is led by Moshe Hogeg, who’s a renowned Israeli tech entrepreneur. Hogeg is the CEO and founder of Mobli, once Instagram’s biggest competitor. He also serves as the CEO of social media app Yo, which must be up there with the most difficult keywords to rank for in Google, and he also runs venture capital fund Singulariteam.
Some of the most prominent advisors of Sirin Labs are Steven Nerayoff, co-founder of Ethereum, Jeff Pulver, the first investor in Twitter, Guy Ben Artzi, co-founder of liquidity network Bancor, and Takeshi Ito, the former CTO of Sony Mobile.
It’s an experienced group of people. And it has to be, considering Sirin Labs ambitious vision to “bridge the gap between the blockchain economy and the mass market through multi-layered cybersecurity and a much-improved user experience.”
The Solarin Phone
But the Finney isn’t the first phone Sirin Labs will release. In 2016, they released the Solarin. It was the most expensive phone in the world, with prices ranging from $14,000 to $20,000. It had a Snapdragon 810 octa-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB of internal memory storage, a 4000 MAh Li-on battery, a 24 MP main camera and a 8 MP selfie camera. We’re talking premium (just have a look at the phone’s website to get an idea).
The phone’s selling point was security. It was a phone made for the wealthy who want to keep their mobile communications secure. On the back of the Solarin was a switch that put the phone into a secure mode. It activated software that encrypted your calls and messages, and it deactivated the less secure features of the phone.
Sirin Labs raised $72 million for the Solarin phone, and it was endorsed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. But the price proved to be too high a hurdle to overcome. Sirin Labs sold less than a thousand Solarin devices, for an estimated $10 million in revenue.
So the company changed course. They started building the world’s first blockchain smartphone.
The Finney Phone
Named after the late Hal Finney, the first person to ever receive a bitcoin transaction, Finney is a cyber-protected, high-end smartphone. It comes with an embedded cold storage wallet that you can slide out from the rear of the phone.
For those of you unfamiliar with crypto wallets, it’s a place where you store your cryptocurrencies. You have “hot” wallets, which are wallets with a connection to the Internet. This could be your wallet on Coinbase or any other crypto exchange.
And you have “cold” wallets, which are wallets that are entirely disconnected from the Internet. They can come in the form of software (as long as the software is offline), hardware (e.g. Trezor or Ledger), or even a simple piece of paper with your crypto address and seed phrase.
If you have a few thousand dollars worth of crypto, you need to store your coins in a cold storage wallet. Otherwise, you leave security up to a 3rd party and your money could be stolen, hacked or lost. Imagine the crypto exchange shutting down. Wave goodbye to your precious coins ?.
The cold storage wallet in Finney has its own micro-controller unit. When you close the wallet, it’s entirely shut down, and safely disconnected from the Internet and from the rest of the phone. Sliding open the wallet will reveal a two inch display dedicated entirely to crypto transactions.
The Finney Specs
Additionally, the Finney has a Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor, 6 GB of RAM, 128 GB of expandable storage, a 3,280 mAH battery, a 12 MP rear camera and an 8 MP selfie camera ?. And of course, a notch too. It’s 2018, after all.
Just like with the Solarin, and in keeping up with the blockchain ethos, Sirin Labs has made sure the Finney is as secure as it can possibly be. It has a physical security switch, a behavioral based intrusion prevention system, and secured VoIP, text and email communications. It also supports three-factor authentication, with a biometric lock, a lock pattern and a behavioral lock.
The phone will have its own dedicated Operating System (OS) called Sirin OS. It’s a forked version of Android Oreo (8.1) that will run on the Ethereum blockchain, with complete nodes hosted by Sirin Labs.
The Sirin Labs ICO
In December 2017, Sirin Labs raised a staggering $157 million to fund the development of Finney. It was the fourth-largest ICO of that year (which only goes to show how much money you could then raise with an ICO).
The Sirin Token (SRN) now trades on major crypto exchanges like Bittrex, Bancor, and HitBTC. At a market cap of almost $30 million (at the time of writing), SRN ranks #160 in terms of cryptocurrency market size.
The price for a SRN token peaked at around $3.50 mid January this year, saw a precipitous decline, and has been trading sideways between $0.07 and $0.14 for the last few months.
The Finney Price
The Finney will be publicly revealed in Barcelona by brand ambassador Lionel Messi in a few weeks, on the 29th of November. Sirin Labs tweeted that commercial release of the phone is on December 15.
The phone’s price tag in $999, which places it straight into the price levels of high-end smartphones. You’ll be able to buy the phone from Sirin stores in London, New York, Singapore, and other big cities around the world, and you’ll be able to buy the phone in crypto too, which is only appropriate.
Sirin Labs expects to sell at least 100,000 Finneys or more, which is a lot more than the amount of Solarins it sold. However, 25,000 Finneys were preordered after the official Finney announcement, news that caused the SRN token to skyrocket to $3.40 ?. So 100,000 sold phones seems like a doable goal.
But the phone will have to face stiff competition. The HTC Exodus lays claims to being the first blockchain phone too, and is also slated for release somewhere in December.
Sirin OS Inside
There are a few hints that show Finney seems to play only a part in Sirin Labs’ broader vision. Firstly, the roadmap on Sirin Labs’ website indicates that they’ll start development of an “all-in-one PC” in 2019.
Similar to Finney, this PC will have advanced security and will be priced at $799. At least, that’s what it said on Sirin Labs’ website before the redesign. Now, that information is gone, so time will tell how their PC will look like and how much it will cost.
But it would be an interesting choice to price the PC $200 lower than the Finney phone. This being said, I live in a country that went through the whole desktop to laptop to mobile transition. Countries like China and South Korea went straight to mobile, so maybe this price choice is just a reflection of a world where mobiles are more important and laptops and PCs are peripheral devices to the mobile.
Secondly, both the phone and the PC will run on a fee-less blockchain. You will pay no fee for the actions and transactions on Sirin Labs’ blockchain. This is another step towards a future where transacting with crypto will become a frictionless experience.
Thirdly, Finney will provide its own app store, but for decentralized apps (DApps). It’s called DCenter (or dCENTER, the way Sirin Labs styles it). The irony of a centralized place to get your decentralized apps isn’t lost on me, but it’s regardless the first app store for decentralized apps and an exciting step forward for the blockchain industry.
And finally, Sirin Labs has open-sourced its Sirin OS, which will be available for any Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) who wants to integrate the blockchain into its products.
Somehow I feel like Sirin Labs is looking to pursue a strategy similar to Intel with its Intel Inside marketing campaign. Any company that wants to build blockchain functionality into its hardware can do so with the Sirin OS.
On the Negative Side
Let’s start this with a disclaimer. The Finney (or any blockchain phone, for that matter) isn’t going to be for everyone. First of all, it’s still very expensive. Secondly, it’s the first blockchain phone and probably won’t be as great as the newest iPhone or Samsung.
This will be a phone for crypto enthusiasts. This is for people who have likely made some serious money from the crypto bull rush of 2017. People who have at least a few thousand dollars in crypto. The early adopters.
But that’s what I believe is also the biggest risk for Finney and Sirin Labs. The Finney phone feels early even for early adopters. Regular cryptocurrency transactions, where you whip out your phone and pay with a cryptocurrency, just aren’t a thing yet. Maybe in a few years, but not in 2018/19.
Additionally, integrating your cold wallet into your phone might be convenient, but it’s risky as well. What if you lose your phone? Or you drop it into a lake ?? No hacker might ever break into your Finney, but who’s to protect you against your own clumsy behavior?
If your crypto wallet is closed and disconnected from the Internet, and something happens to your phone, you lose your money. And if Sirin Labs offers a solution where it can retrieve your coins, the wallet was never really a cold wallet to begin with.
But on the Positive Side
First of all, the Finney could prove to be a great device for decentralized mobile gaming (DGaming). Many of the new, innovative features the phone is going to introduce are needed if DGaming wants to move from a clumsy experience with mobile hot wallets to a secure, frictionless mobile experience.
Three-factor authentication. A built-in cold storage crypto wallet. Its own store for decentralized apps. A blockchain without fees. All these features help blockchain developers create secure and easy-to-use mobile crypto games that people will enjoy playing.
Secondly, let’s look at the bigger picture: Sirin Labs is an ambitious company. The Finney is an ambitious phone. The vision is compelling. A future with decentralized hardware, where the power is in your hands (quite literally).
The first version of anything is always messy. Samsung didn’t come up with its infinity display out of nowhere. You had the Galaxy Note Edge first, which had this clumsy curve around one side where you could place your apps. It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly looked quite weird at the time, but it did eventually lead to the 1440p Super AMOLED Infinity Display of the Galaxy Note 8.
As such, the first iteration of the Finney might not immediately have every person on the street go “wow, that’s fantastic”. But the first blockchain phone is a milestone both for the smartphone and for the blockchain industry nonetheless.
Sirin Labs is going where no hardware manufacturer has ever gone before. It’s integrating one of the most transformative technologies of this decade into hardware. That’s not easy, and it certainly is brave. You can feel that the company is chasing its vision of a decentralized future with frictionless blockchain and crypto experiences. Whether or not they’ll succeed will depend on the appetite of the early adopters for the Finney, but you have to commend them for trying to build a better tomorrow.