Turing Phone: The hacker-resistant smartphone with stretchable storage
The Turing Phone
Image: Turing Robotics Industries
The Turing Phone can wirelessly transfer a DVD-quality movie in just over half a minute and has secure messaging that would take years to crack.
But the most impressive features of this sleek and sturdy phone are just around the corner says Turing Robotics Industries CEO Syl Chao.
The first of these additions will land next year, when Turing Phones will be upgraded from the Android 5.1 operating system (OS) to the Turing OS. In theory, this new OS will make it more difficult for the phone to run out of storage space.
Instead of just saving files onto their own device, users will be able to store content on Turing Phones belonging to other customers – with each handset sharing a portion of their storage. Chao calls this approach ‘wind computing’.
“Wind computing is essentially breaking the files into thousands of pieces, so you have copies everywhere.”
When files are distributed between phones in this way, the data will be tagged so it remains accessible to the owner and no-one else. This tagging system will also clearly link data to its owner – which Chao said should address issues of liability for what is stored on each device.
Turing Robotics Industries CEO Syl Chao
Image: Turing Robotics Industries
“Since data will be stored with a trustworthy tag which belongs to the user who issues the key it doesn’t matter where the data is stored, the user may retrieve it when desired. There’s always a way to check where the keys are, much like the blockchain technology behind Bitcoin.”
Underpinning this distributed storage is the security provided by Turing Robotics Industries (TRI), which started out as a company researching decentralised cryptographic keys. In the five years since TRI was established, the firm developed the Identity Based Authentication Infrastructure that will provide the foundation for the system.
Plenty of cloud services today already offer virtually unlimited storage to anyone with internet connectivity but Chao claims that wind storage bypasses some of these services’ limitations.
“Don’t you just hate that there’s only one centralized service, Dropbox or iCloud, that you have to sign up to a different services and if you lose your password you can’t retrieve your files. With wind computing you don’t have that problem anymore.”
Looking further into the future, the company is investigating the possibility of splitting computer processing jobs between devices.
Turing Phone owners will also be offered separate cloud-based storage, as part of a suite of free services that also includes email, SMS, IM and VOIP calls.
The other upgrade that Chao has planned is to the phone’s battery. Chao says the company is looking at a number of different energy storage technologies, including fuel cell, that could greatly boost the device’s running time.
“Right now our battery can last about seven hours under heavy use and on standby for a day. But that new one can last more than a week.”
Although Chao hinted the new battery could be ready for the launch of the first Turing Phone in December, he was unable to say for sure when they would switch to this new power source. It’s also worth bearing in mind that no other mainstream smartphone manufacturer has managed to make a battery with this sort of capacity and that other attempts to use fuel cells to power smartphones have been shown to have major drawbacks.
The Turing Phone made headlines for its security when it was announced earlier this year and for good reason.
The encryption that protects the phone’s communications relies on a private key that is kept within the device’s hardware.
“Secure communications, in terms of key distribution and key exchange, happens offline, end-to-end. There’s no need for a third party server to manage the keys, it makes the communications a lot more bullet proof,” said Chao
Even though Android is an OS known for being targeted by a large volume of malware, the communications encrypted by the private key are highly resistant to being breached, said Chao.
“A hacker could root the device but they can’t get the private key out. It’s kept completely separate in the hardware,” he said, adding that while no device was 100 percent secure – extracting that private key would take a lot of time and effort.
“We’ve hired a very skilled hacker to try to hack the key. Although he failed in the end it would take literally over three years.”
Once the phone is updated to the full Turing OS – planned within six months of launch – it will be far more secure while still retaining compatibility with Android applications, according to Chao.
Safeguarding privacy doesn’t sell phones though, in Chao’s view, which is why he sees the USP of the phone as being its clean design.
The phone has a frame made of “liquidmorphium” – an amorphous alloy of zirconium, copper, aluminum, nickel and silver that’s supposedly stronger than steel, but cheaper and more efficient to produce than titanium. It lends the handset a robust feel while retaining the look of polished Chrome. Chao is so confident of its durability he even encourages testers to try their hardest to bend the device.
The Turing AEMaeth UI.
Image: Turing Robotics Industries
Meanwhile the phone’s rear is made out of a polycarbonate, patterned with crisp geometric shapes or with a scaled texture depending on the model.
Even though the phone ships with an Android OS under the hood, the phone will run the custom Turing Phone interface on top.
The Turing Æmæth UI shares the minimalist stylings of the case – being split into tiled menus that show apps, messages and system notifications. The UI should let users peep at updates from inside apps without opening them, as well as tapping them to launch. Chao plans for the UI to be customisable in the final version, with users able to shrink elements to suit them. The phone should also launch with its own social network, with user updates displayed on the home page.
While there is much that is premium about the phone, its technical specs aren’t at the cutting edge, with an 801 Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset – the same used by the HTC One in 2014 – and a 1920×1080 resolution screen. This hardware will be bumped up to a Snapdragon 820 and at least a 2K screen when the next version of the Turing Phone is released in 2016, he said.
There are other caveats: while the WiGig data standard will allow the phone to share 3.2GB of data in no more than 25 seconds, the feature will only be available via a case provided with the Dark Wyvern special edition, priced from $779. You’ll also need this case if you want a headphone socket – otherwise you can use a Bluetooth-enabled set – and USB port.
But while the Turing Phone may be more expensive than some similarly specced competitors, Chao believes the overall package is worth it.
“It’s like, there are average cars out there but there are also people who want to drive an Aston Martin, Lamborghini or Ferrari. We’re in the elite sector of phones.”
- The Turing Phone is available to preorder for $610 – $870 depending on storage.
- CPU: MSM8974AC (Snapdragon 801) Quad Krait 2.5GHz
- Memory Type: EMMC + LPDDR3 RAM
- RAM/ Storage: 3GB / (16GB) (64GB) (128GB)
- LTE Band (FDD, TDD, TDS): B1(2100), B2(1900), B3(1800), B4(2100/AWS), B5(850), B7(2600) B8(900), B17(700bc)/B20(800DD), B34, B38(TDD2600), B39, B40(TDD2300), B41(TDD2500)
- Screen: 5.5″ FHD 1920 x 1080 / Gorilla Glass III
- Camera: Front 8MP FF / Rear 13MP AF (dual flashlight)
- Wireless connectivity: 802.11ac Dual bands / GPS / BT4.0 (BLE) / NXP NFC
- Sensors: Gravity, Motion, Gyro, Proximity, Light, E-Compass, Temp/humidity
- Fingerprint reader: Left side
- Security: Turing Imitation Key (TIK) TF Card
- Battery: 3,000 mAh Lithium-ion polymer
- Charging Port: Wallaby (magnetic charger)
- Frame: Liquidmorphium
- Material: High-tech Ceramic / Aluminium / ABS
- OS: Android 5.1 / Turing UI Crypto Key Decentralized AIBE (Anonymous Identity Based Encryption) with TIK
- RFID: Unique Identification X-RFID