The news is out that Solana Labs is launching a new blockchain mobile phone for the web3 generation, is this a good idea? Let's dig into this a bit more.
Just want to make it clear right at the outset here: The Solana Mobile Stack (SMS) has far more chances of success than a pure hardware play, and that’s where the real potential win is for Solana.
Years ago when iOS launched there was an explosion of Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms to cater to enterprise use cases.
What Solana Labs has here with the Solana Mobile Stack is the potential not only to accelerate mobile platform development for blockchain but also to tempt enterprise case studies for blockchain-based mobility via a blockchain MDM solution too.
Solana is not the first to try to launch a blockchain phone. Giants like Samsung with the Klaytn collaboration launched in 2019 in South Korean markets only and launched with 5 dApps installed. It's unreported just how successful that was 3 years later but you can guess by the lack of any fanfare that this was not received well.
LG immediately went on the defensive and was rumoured to launch its own rival phone but that fizzled out completely, I would guess primarily due to its own market research following the Klaytn's damp numbers.
The other most widely known attempts have been from HTC with their Exodus phones, and Sirin Labs before them in 2018. Even in India, Pundi X tried to launch their own blockchain mobile.
All failed to gain any real traction whatsoever and no more has been publicised about them since launch.
Mobile phones are a great hardware flex for software-based companies because they look at user adoption as a natural market fit. But they've been proven wrong over and over.
It's important to note that Solana is partnering with the Osom team that has no track record of shipping a hardware product - in fact, the phone that Saga is now was supposed to be revealed back in September last year.
Microsoft, Amazon, Razer, Red...the mobile industry is like an elephant's graveyard of bad decisions and large balance sheet deficits where companies have tried to take their brand into new territories. This is before they realize that releasing hardware is fraught with more shipping problems and testing than software.
Solana has something like 2m MAU - this does not mean there are 2m willing users and developers who want a new mobile device or that the allure of a hardware solution for a software industry is going to draw more people in.
“Solana can revolutionize so much of what we do every day, but we need to open the possibilities for decentralized apps on our mobile devices in order for this potential to be realized.” Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX said of the announcement. He's right but also it makes a point that while having dApps available there are a finite number of people who really care about Web3 in the first place.
And then there are the software updates.
The Saga is based on Android and Google pushes out security updates regularly to Pixel owners first before other OEMs have to integrate them into their own phones. This means having a dedicated team to continually update the custom OS, security, and then having every dApp developer chase those updates to make their own software work on the phone.
And with Apple, Samsung, Google, LG and others releasing new phones annually with bigger and better specs, a small OEM startup is going to find it incredibly difficult to keep up.
This is one 'saga' that might drag on for reasons other than success.