Solana Labs revealed a mobile platform called SMS and an Android smartphone device today.
Decrypt spoke with Solana co-founder Anatoly Yakovenko after the event.
Solana’s teasers leading up to yesterday’s “SMS” event suggested something to do with mobile, but few could have imagined the twist that was announced in New York City. Yes, Solana Labs has built a mobile software platform… but it’s also releasing a smartphone.
Solana Labs yesterday revealed the Solana Mobile Stack (SMS) software kit, which provides tools for developing native Android mobile apps, walls, and games, and also includes a decentralized app store. The company also revealed the Saga, a powerful Android smartphone that will be released in early 2023.
Anatoly Yakovenko, co-founder of Solana and CEO of Solana Labs, told Decrypt that his team has been working on the SMS push for about five months, and the hardware itself for a bit longer. But the idea of improving Web3 access and functionality on mobile has been in his head for years, particularly given his past experience as a Qualcomm engineer.
“What does it look like with 1 billion people using [crypto]? What do you imagine? It’s in this device—the device you use everyday,” he said, holding up the Solana Saga prototype. “That has to be your hardware wallet. That’s just something that we always felt.”
Yakovenko said the idea went from concept to reality once he met Jason Keats, founder and “Chief Hooligan” at OSOM Products. Keats was previously the R&D head at Essential, a startup that made its own Android phone, and OSOM will be doing much the same: the previously announced OSOM OV1 will now be rebranded as the Solana Saga.
It’s a powerful device. The sizable Android handset will feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor, a 6.67” OLED display, 12GB RAM, and 512GB of internal storage. Given the chance to briefly hold the phone, we can say it very much looks and feels like a premium Android phone that you’d find from Google or Samsung, with a dash of iPhone-like minimalism.
“It’s a pretty freakin’ cool device,” Yakovenko said. He added with a laugh, “Don’t drop it.”
Android runs on more than 3 billion devices around the world, so why build a new phone specifically for the Solana ecosystem? Yakovenko said that the device—which is estimated to sell for $1,000—will represent the gold standard for a Web3-centric smartphone, and showcase the full array of capabilities of the Solana Mobile Stack.
“Every developer that I talked to—we talked to them about mobile strategy, and how to grow to most of the rest of the world,” he said. “There’s a lot of friction in the App Store. When devs tell me that, I kind of start pacing around the room trying to figure out how to help them. It just feels like a natural opportunity to build a Web3-facing app store and Web3 device.”
He said that while other Android devices can adopt the full Solana Mobile Stack or even parts of it, the Solana Saga will give users and developers the complete experience with top-tier specs. And the Saga is not just meant as a secondary device: it’s a robust smartphone with the full suite of Google apps and services, like most other popular Androids.
“I think it’s important to have a flagship [phone] that shows that this is a full integration,” Yakovenko added. “This is the best version of it.”
Besides, it’s not a given that other Android devices will adopt Solana Mobile Stack. It’s an open-source platform and the aim is widespread adoption, so Solana Labs hopes to see every major manufacturer integrate it. However, phone makers will need to put in the work to support this crypto software—a relatively niche and oft-controversial thing.
“If we start succeeding, then I think the dominoes will start falling in terms of crypto adoption in both of those companies,” he said, when asked about SMS on Samsung and Google devices.
What about Apple’s iPhone and the iOS ecosystem, though? Unlike Android, which has been forked and adapted for any number of devices, Apple keeps a tight lock on iOS.
Yakovenko noted that Apple’s recent WWDC 2022 conference showcased zero tools related to crypto. The Mobile Wallet Adaptor feature of SMS isn’t limited to Android, and can work with other mobile and PC platforms, but Apple’s restrictive ecosystem may limit how smoothly Solana mobile applications can work on iOS devices.
“Those protocols can definitely be ported to iOS,” he explained, “but without the help of Apple and true integration into the secure element [hardware] that they use, I think it’s gonna be really, really tough to get a true Apple Pay-like experience for crypto.”
Whether Solana Labs can get Apple or even top Android makers onboard with SMS remains to be seen, but Yakovenko described it as mission critical to bringing the world into crypto.
“It’s just a matter of them deciding that crypto is important enough,” he said. “From my point of view, we could be very successful in enabling a billion users to self custody just by changing the minds of those folks.”
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