Crypto is going mobile. In June, Solana hosted an event in New York where it announced a mobile phone alongside the “Solana Mobile Stack”, a range of software releases that will allow developers to build dedicated Solana mobile apps. The next big wave in the digital asset space is likely to be centered around mass adoption and the mobile phone is the most widespread internet enabled device. This month we will dig into the Solana announcement and explore what the Solana Mobile Stack is and how it works. We will evaluate the importance of this initiative and how it impacts Solana as well as the broader blockchain ecosystem.
Anatoly Yakovenko, the co-founder of Solana, is no stranger to mobile development. He started his career at Qualcomm, where he helped build the first platform for mobile phones and worked on one of the first gaming apps to get over 1 million users. Over three years, he watched the mobile app ecosystem explode from a few million users to over a billion users and is acutely aware of how mobiles can facilitate exponential growth in user adoption. As he pointed out in his keynote speech at the launch event:
“We live our lives on our mobile devices – except for web3 because there hasn’t been a mobile-centric approach to private key management. The Solana Mobile Stack shows a new path forward on Solana that is open-source, secure, optimized for web3, and easy to use.”
Today there are two main types of wallets available for crypto users. The first are software wallets, like Metamask. These are wallets that are stored in web browsers or mobile applications. These wallets are generally easy to use, but they are not secure. The second type of wallet is a hardware wallet, like a Ledger or Trezor. These are very secure wallets for storing private keys but are generally difficult to use and require integrations with desktop computers or Bluetooth connections to mobile phones. The Solana Mobile Stack will enable the best of both worlds, offering the security of hardware wallets with the usability of software wallets.
The Solana Mobile Stack is an open-source software development kit (“SDK”) for Android development. Its purpose is to allow crypto users to securely store private keys and therefore tokens on mobile devices. These private keys are partitioned from wallets, apps and the Android operating system to offer the same level of security as hardware wallets. At the same time, the keys can be used to sign transactions, meaning that users can interact with crypto apps on their phones. The Solana Mobile Stack allows engineers to build native Android web3 apps for Solana.
There are three core features of the Solana Mobile Stack. The first is the Seed Vault. Every mobile phone has a secure element built into that that is not accessible by apps or the phone’s operating system. For example, if you unlock your phone using your thumb print or faceID, these identifiers are stored in the secure element. Apps can ask the phone to approve an action using these features, but the apps cannot directly access fingerprint of facial recognition data. Solana’s Seed Vault uses this secure environment to store private keys, seed phrases and secrets.
Security is critical when it comes to storing private keys. The Seed Vault provides this security by accessing Secure Elements on a phone’s hardware and storing private keys in these segregated parts of hardware. In this way, users’ private keys are never shared with the Android operating system or with Solana applications running on the phone. The keys are only used to sign transactions within the secure environment and raw byte code is passed back to the apps and Android OS that shows that transactions have been signed.
The second feature of the Solana Mobile Stack is the Mobile Wallet Adapter. This is a protocol for connecting web apps and native Android apps to wallets on mobile devices. When using a dApp, a user may be asked to sign a transaction. The Mobile Wallet Adapter is a specification that will integrate the application with mobile wallets. For example, a user may be on an NFT marketplace like Magic Eden. The user finds an NFT that they want to purchase and they click to buy. The Mobile Wallet Adapter then kicks in to link the Magic Eden app to a wallet app on the phone that is using the Seed Vault. The user approves the transaction and is immediately taken back to the Magic Eden app. It is a similar user experience to using Apple Pay or Google Pay on a phone, only with crypto rather than fiat.
The third and final feature of the Solana Mobile Stack is Solana Pay for Android. We have previously written about the potential for crypto to replace existing payment systems and Solana Pay is leading the way. By integrating Solana Pay into the Solana Mobile Stack, wallet apps will have the ability to use the system features of Android devices. QR codes, NFC taps, messages, and web browser interactions can all be used to launch Solana Pay requests. The system is built to integrate with traditional payment rails and so is already usable by tens of millions of merchants around the world.
The software behind the Solana Mobile Stack is hugely powerful and will allow mobile app developers to access the full power of crypto. However, for this take off, it needs mobile phone manufacturers to integrate the SDK into their phones. In particular, the Seed Vault must be integrated into mobile operating systems so that the vault can access secure elements on a phone. To kick start adoption, Solana has announced Saga, a flagship Android mobile phone that integrates the Solana Mobile Stack. This phone is available now for pre-orders, with target delivery in early 2023.
Along with integrating with the Solana Mobile Stack, the phone will also host the new Solana dApp Store. Much like the Apple App Store or Google Play, this will be a distribution channel for developers to showcase and ship their products. Unlike existing app stores, there will be no platform fees associated with downloads or in app transactions.
There are numerous use cases for the new Solana phone and mobile ecosystem including:
There will also be numerous new use cases that are yet to be invented that will make use of the features and capabilities that a native crypto phone will bring. Given this huge potential, it is not surprising that we are already seeing other mobile phone announcements from other crypto projects including Ethereum, Polygon and HTC Exodus.
We are often asked how we view Solana compared to other smart contract platforms. Solana has had issues over the last year with network downtime and the token price is down heavily. However, it is initiatives like this that continue to make us extremely positive about Solana and its ecosystem. Solana continues to push the boundaries of what we can do with crypto both from a technical and user experience perspective. Ethereum is the leading layer-1 ecosystem and we see many competing layer-1 projects copy-pasting what Ethereum has done. Solana marches to the beat of its own drum. The network architecture is unique, new initiatives are original and it has the fastest growing developer community in the world.
We are excited by the Solana Mobile Stack. A successful launch would be beneficial for both Solana and the broader crypto ecosystem. If established mobile phone manufacturers see that there is traction for a crypto phone, they will start to integrate crypto capabilities into their own products, pushing the entire ecosystem forward. We continue to scout for teams building on Solana and we envisage many mobile developers turning their attention to building on the Solana Mobile Stack. This dovetails in nicely with the 15 hacker houses that Solana has sponsored in the last year with over 9,000 attendees and more than 600 demo applications. There is something exciting happening on Solana and we remain focused on investing at the earliest stages in the ecosystem.