Encrypted selfies, anyone? Blackphone 2 times launch perfectly as hackers inspire fear and loathing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 July, 2015, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 July, 2015, 4:55pm

The Blackphone 2, the highly anticipated next step in the smartphone series acclaimed for its ability to uphold users’ privacy, will offer a wide range of security features and apps when it is launched in Hong Kong in the upcoming months.

“Hong Kong will be one of the first markets in the world where we plan to launch Blackphone 2,” Javier Aguera, the chief scientist at Blackphone maker Silent Circle, told the South China Morning Post on the sidelines of the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Shanghai.

Aguera said Hong Kong’s role as an international business centre and reputation as one of the more advanced mobile markets worldwide made it a prime target for encrypted communications provider Silent Circle to introduce the new-generation Blackphone.

“Hong Kong has tight links with the financial sector, and we already have many financial institutions working with our solutions,” he said. “It will be a very good hub for us [in Asia-Pacific] because it is a market that is very keen on innovation.”

He declined to provide an exact launch date. Silent Circle’s website, however, showed that the Blackphone 2 will be commercially available this September in undisclosed markets.

The first-generation Blackphone was launched early last year by SGP Technologies amid much fanfare as the first smartphone with tools to counter unauthorised surveillance, commercial exploitation of activity data, and the loss of privacy. It was honoured by Time magazine as one of the “Best 25 Inventions of 2014”. 

That model had pre-installed privacy tools, all of which are fully enabled for at least two years of usage. These include the Silent Circle suite of apps, including Silent Phone, Silent Text, and Silent Contacts; anonymous search, private browsing, and a virtual private network setup from Disconnect; and secure cloud file storage from SpiderOak.

SGP was a joint venture between Switzerland-based Silent Circle and Geeksphone, the start-up co-founded in Spain by Aguera that pioneered the Blackphone project. Silent Circle acquired full ownership of the venture in February after it raised US$50 million in a private round of financing. 

Aguera said new Blackphone model will have even more advanced privacy functions, supported by a unique apps store with other privacy-focused programmes.

Silent Circle will likely work with a local Hong Kong telecommunications network operator or a specialist systems integrator to sell and market Blackphone 2 in the city, according to Aguera.

The Blackphone 2 features US chipmaker Qualcomm’s 1.7-gigahertz Snapdragon eight-core processor, a 5.5-inch high-definition display, 3 gigabytes of memory, 32 GB of internal storage and support for MicroSD cards of up to 28GB. 

It also has a 13-megapixel rear camera with flash, Wi-fi and Bluetooth support, and a customised and secure Android operating platform called SilentOS.

The Blackphone last year cost upwards of US$629. It was available through selected partner carriers in Europe, including KPN Mobile.

Aguera said the cost of the new model will be “around that same range”, depending on the markets where it will launch in the Asia-Pacific. Other markets in the region where Silent Circle plans to launch the device include South Korea and Indonesia.