Former Apple Designer Takes On Hardware Wallet

When Steve Jobs recruited Tony Fadell to build the iPod in 2001, the record business was in freefall, with CD sales savaged by the rise of digital piracy. Apple itself was struggling to revive its clout as Jobs broadened the portfolio beyond computers in his second tour as CEO. In less than a year, the company launched a revolutionary MP3 player, which could hold 1,000 songs at a size no bigger than a deck of cards. The iPod has not only saved the music industry and put Apple on the path to becoming the most profitable company in the world; it became a status symbol.

Fadell oversaw the development of 18 generations of iPods and the first three iterations of the iPhone before leaving Apple in 2010. A few months later, Silicon Valley venture moguls Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, and Micky Malka, the founder of Ribbit capital, convinced Fadell to dabble in bitcoin, then still widely perceived as a plaything of geeks and criminals. As Fadell was getting increasingly interested in crypto, he started thinking about ways to help it break into the mainstream.

“If you look at every single major transition in the digital world, it had to come with a hardware and software revolution at the same time,” says Fadell, also known as the creator of Google’s
Nest thermostat. The software was there, but “what’s that device that everybody would want to have? That kind of iPod moment,” Fadell adds. The opportunity came in early 2021, when Ledger, a manufacturer of hardware devices for storing digital assets, tapped him to help design its new wallet.

Today at the Op3n conference in Paris, the company presented the device called Ledger Stax. Like its predecessors, it enables users to manage cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) while retaining full control of the assets with private passwords known as keys. New features for the crypto wallet include a significantly larger display that covers the front and the spine, enabling users to view complete transactions at a glance, an integrated magnet, which allows it to be stacked with similar devices–think bitcoin stored on one, NFTs on another— improved battery life (weeks or even months on a single charge compared to 8 hours on Ledger Nano X) and wireless charging. Stax can be connected to the Ledger Live and upcoming Ledger Connect applications, which allow users to buy tokens and access other decentralized platforms.

“The time is now for a device for more mainstream users,” says Pascal Gauthier, CEO and chairman of Ledger.

The new wallet will cost $279. With pre-orders already launched, the gadgets will ship in Q1 and will become available through select retailers such as BestBuy in the United States, according to the announcement. Along with the devices, Ledger will launch NFTs that unlock access to content from partner artists and other benefits.

The timing of the launch is auspicious. In recent weeks, Ledger has found itself one of the few beneficiaries of the failures cascading through the digital-assets industry as the crypto winter was made even colder by the collapse of former billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire. As users were rushing to withdraw their coins from centralized platforms, Ledger and competitor Trezor saw their sales climb through the roof.

According to Ian Rogers, chief experience officer at Ledger and previously chief digital officer at luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH, the second week of November, in which FTX filed for bankruptcy, turned out to be the most profitable in the company’s eight-year history. Amid unprecedented demand, Ledger’s servers experienced outages. Token swaps via FTX and FTX US, previously available on the Ledger Live app, were paused shortly after FTX filed for Chapter 11 protection. “If not self-custody, why crypto?” Rogers says. “People understand that a lot more today than they did a month ago.”

To date, the Paris-based manufacturer has sold five million devices in 200 countries and claims to have helped secure 20% of the world’s cryptoassets. In its latest venture-capital round last June, Ledger raised $380 million at what it says was a $1.5 billion valuation.

With Stax, the company is striving to not only capitalize on the movement toward self-custody but reinvent the whole crypto culture. “We need a user-friendly–no!—a ‘user-delightful tool to bring digital-asset security to the rest of us, not just the geeks,” says Fadell.

He thinks he is only starting. “We had 18 generations of iPod. This is not an 18 or 24-month thing,” he asserts. “This is long-term building.”