"While the rest of the market is going one way, with selfie sticks and curved screens, we're going down another, to the heart of problems, sticking with privacy and security," said Silent Circle's Mike Janke at the launch of the company's new secure smartphone, the Blackphone 2. And he's not kidding — though no frills in design, it's kitted out with some serious security features. It's the phone that promises to help you beat the Australian Government's data retention scheme.
First, the hardware. A 5-inch handset with a Full HD screen (protected on the outside by Gorilla Glass 3), it's running on a 64-bit Qualcomm octa-core processor, backed by 3GB of RAM. A removable 3060mAh battery sits inside (with Quick Charge 2.0 features), with microSDXC support for expandable memory. So far, so standard.
It's on the software side where things get a bit more interesting, and that 3GB of RAM shows its worth. Though Running on Android, the phone is equipped with Silent Circle's PrivateOS 1.1, an enterprise-orientated, highly secure layer that sits on top of Google's OS.
This gives users a "Spaces" UI, which keeps the different areas of your mobile life encrypted and compartmentalised. It's essentially a virtualisation system, letting the Blackphone 2 act as separate "devices" within itself, even offering different log-ins running concurrently on each app or service. So, you can set up an Enterprise Space for your work documents and communications, a Personal Space for your private emails and saucy sexting pics, and a Silent Space that's pretty much a phone-wide version of Chrome's "Incognito Mode".
Each space can be filled with the "Silent Suite" apps, whose functions are pretty self explanatory; Silent Text, Silent Contacts and Silent Phone, each keeping your communications encrypted and isolated from each other. The phone will also come equipped with the Silent Store, the world's first-privacy and security orientated app store.
Those looking to use the phone for conference calling will benefit also from the new Silent Meeting function. This lets you set up secure conference calls with as many as 50 participants, offering scheduling and invitation tools too. Providing all users are using the Silent Meeting feature, there's no need for annoying log-in passwords, with the encryption and security being handled behind the scenes.
"We're replacing BlackBerry, we don't care that BlackBerry's CEO is throwing nasty things about us onto Twitter. We're going to dominate them," said Silent Circle security specialist (and former Navy Seal) Mike Janke at today's launch. While that's not a massive claim to make with BlackBerry on the backfoot, if the Blackphone 2 can live up to its secure claims, it will certainly fill a hole left by BlackBerry's disappointing touchscreen smartphones.
Due out in the summer, the Blackphone 2 is expected to retail at $US629.
So what does Silent Circle mean when it says it can best data retention? Well, the data retention plan relies on collecting metadata like call times, locations and text message info. Silent Circle says it doesn't produce any of that based on the way PrivatOS communicates with other devices.
Here's an example: type in the name of someone you want on your Circle, and the phone will create a personal intranet between the two of you. It performs a few security handshakes and destroys the keys so nobody else can see it. It becomes a closed loop of phones communicating via text using the data network. While metadata is created, it's an anonymised data session which "looks like white noise" when law enforcement agencies look at it.
We're told that the agencies can't tell whether or not it was a text message sent or whether it was Netflix or general internet browsing going across the network. It creates no cellular metadata as a result of voice or text conversations. Nifty.
Gizmodo Australia understands the technology has already been demonstrated to the Queensland Police Service, who are simultaneously excited about the operational possibilities of such a service, but also frightened about what might happen if the so-called "bad guys" get their hands on a phone they can't track.
We understand the NSW Police is also looking at the devices themselves.
If it's encryption that has the cops freaked, you know it's legit.