iPod creator Tony Fadell has designed a new hardware wallet for users to store their cryptocurrency.
The product, created by French crypto asset security company Ledger, was launched on Tuesday at the company’s annual Ledger Op3n event. Its launch comes at a time when trust in centralized crypto platforms is fading following the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX.
It’s called Ledger Stax and looks like a small smartphone or credit card reader. Measuring 85 millimeters long and 54 millimeters wide, it’s about the same size as a credit card. It also weighs around 45 grams, weighing less than an iPhone. Users can deposit or trade a range of tokens, including bitcoinsether, cardano, solana, and non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
The Ledger Stax sports a black and white E-ink display, similar to that of Amazon’s Kindle e-readers. It also includes magnets, so multiple devices can be stacked on top of each other like a stack of books or cash – hence the Stax name. Users can connect it to their laptop via USB cable or to their phone via Bluetooth.
“A lot of Ledger owners have multiple devices, some store their NFTs, some store different crypto, some have multiple because they have different clients they store for,” Fadell told CNBC in an interview.
The screen also has a spine that curves around the edge, “so you can see what’s on each, just like an old CD or tape or a book,” he said.
The iPod for crypto?
Initially, Fadell refused to work with the Ledger team on Stax. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do,” he said. “When they first approached me, I said, ‘I don’t want to do this. No thanks.’ I was interested in crypto, I had crypto at the time but I basically have a lot of other things to do.”
The Ledger Stax is the latest hardware crypto wallet from the French startup Ledger. It’s about the same size as a credit card and sports an E-ink screen.
Fadell then bought a few old Ledger devices. He found that, like MP3 players in 1999, people didn’t know what to think of the devices.
They were also difficult to use, he said. “It didn’t feel like it was ready for the mainstream, or at least the early consumer markets,” Fadell said. “Not just business to geeks, we had to go business to consumers.”
The tech design guru – who had previously co-founded the Nest smart thermostat before it was acquired by Google in 2014 – then decided to help the Ledger team.
“It reminds me a lot of the iPod,” he said.
The Ledger Stax, which sells for $279, is available for preorder starting Tuesday and will begin shipping in the first quarter of 2023, Ledger said.
This isn’t the first time a company has tried to launch a blockchain and cryptocurrency-focused smartphone.
In 2018, during the last so-called “crypto winter”, HTC launched the Exodus 1, a mid-range phone with a crypto wallet included. Swiss startup Sirin Labs has launched its own phone with a “cold” wallet, called Finney. And blockchain platform Solana launched its own Android phone for “Web3” this year, named Saga.
These devices have largely struggled to gain traction with consumers.
Ian Rogers, chief experience officer at Ledger and a former executive at Apple and LVMH, said he was confident about the mass market potential.
“There’s no doubt about the need for security and there’s no doubt that we are leading more and more lives online,” he told CNBC. “instagram, Nike, Starbucks, Amazon — many companies are finding real use cases for digital assets. And so I think we’re going to grow with that.”
Not your keys, not your crypto
After FTX’s recent collapse into insolvency, crypto holders have been looking for other ways to store their digital assets. One is through cold storage, where a user’s private key — the code they need to access their account — is kept on a device that isn’t connected to the internet.
Since these wallets are offline, they are less susceptible to hacks or failures. Ledger says that to date, none of its devices have been hacked.
Ledger saw its sales increase due to fears over contagion from the FTX collapse. Last week, BlockFi, a crypto lender, filed for bankruptcy after it was revealed that Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s trading company, had defaulted on $680 million in loans from the company.
November “will be our biggest month ever,” Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier told CNBC. “All the news you’ve seen year to date, from Celsius to FTX, has really pushed a lot of users into self-watching.”
Ledger has sold over 5 million devices to date.
However, a sharp drop in digital asset prices could spell trouble for the company as retail investors grow increasingly wary. According to Bankrate’s September survey, only 21% of Americans feel comfortable investing in cryptocurrency. That’s down from 35% in 2021.
The Ledger Stax will compete with a host of consumer gadgets this holiday shopping season, including Apple’s new iPhone 14, at a time when budgets are constrained by rising inflation.
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