Currently, Apple has a market capitalization of $3.4 trillion. There are only so many avenues available to the company in order to significantly increase its bottom line. Self-driving cars and mixed-reality glasses come to mind (as much as I love the Ted Lasso cinematic universe, it won’t change the needle).
In addition to the iPhone, there is a massive opportunity in cryptography that the company has been quiet about. An early contributor to the Ethereum project says that Apple’s stance on crypto is somewhere between neutral and hostile. But the iPhone could serve as the gateway drug for millions of new users to join the ecosystem.”
How? Through the development of an easy-to-use interface for interacting with crypto-economics.
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As Burton points out, “You have to remember that Apple is a company that makes products for people to access protocols.” For example, he says, the iPod helped users interact with the MP3 standard, and the iPhone does the same for internet standards.
It is possible to interact with cryptographic protocols using a variety of tools. According to Holyn Kanake, an advisor and designer at CoinDesk, “[these products] are miles away from decentralization, aggressively technical and composed of discordant user interfaces.”
In January, Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike wrote a viral post titled “My First Impressions of Web3,” which emphasized the point.
Crypto’s promise of a decentralised technology stack is running into human behaviour, he noted: No one wants to manage their own servers and never will. ” (My translation: We tend to be simple and lazy.)
This problem can be alleviated in two ways, according to Burton: The iPhone, which more than a billion people carry around in their pockets on a daily basis, can help.
Browser extension for Safari
With more than 21 million users, Metamask is one of the most popular on-boarding tools for new crypto users. The iOS 15 update, released in November, adds support for more browser extensions than the previous version did. Additionally, with Safari accounting for 54% of all mobile traffic in the United States, there is room for more crypto iPhone tools.
Hard drive wallet
It has a built-in feature called a secure enclave that encrypts all of your data. For security-sensitive apps like FaceID and Apple Pay, a subsystem on the iPhone A1 chip stores data (passcodes, biometrics). iOS cannot directly access the data, which is critical. Apple’s iPhone could become a safe crypto hardware wallet for storing private keys and digital authentication if it added an encryption signature known as Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA).
According to Burton, “a good browser extension is a near-term solution for on-boarding crypto users.” He has taken his bullishness into action by building Balance, an open-source crypto wallet extension for Safari.
The hardware wallet is a longer-term solution, but one that could be revolutionary, given Apple’s ability to create user-friendly tools. Cryptocurrency is already subject to Apple’s whims in some ways. Bitcoin exchange CEO Brian Armstrong wrote on February 4 that Coinbase has to “play by [Apple’s] rules” if it wants to be listed on the App Store and serve iPhone users, Armstrong wrote.
How does Apple actually feel about crypto?
iPhone users can currently download crypto wallet apps (such as Coinbase and Crypto.com) but the App Store has deemed NFT-viewing apps unsuitable. It appears that this position has more to do with Apple’s App Store tax than with a crypto issue. “A diversified portfolio” includes some cryptocurrencies, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook at the DealBook Conference in November. In spite of Apple’s claim that it has “no immediate plans” to integrate crypto payments, “there are things [the company] is definitely looking at.”
Also, the White House is looking into ways to encourage the development of crypto technology. “US competitiveness and leadership” in digital asset technologies is the goal of President Joe Biden’s recently signed Executive Order on crypto.
People will prioritise security and privacy as crypto assets become a larger portion of their net worth, according to Burton. “From the beginning, Cook has pushed for these features. To put it another way, I believe Apple will do the right thing for its customers if it decides to take the crypto route.
It wouldn’t be the first time a major tech company has shifted its stance on crypto. The launch of a set of crypto-infrastructure tools by payments giant Stripe last week was a significant domino fall. Prior to 2018, the company had launched and shut down its crypto team.
Burton, who briefly worked at Stripe in its early days, was not surprised by the move: “As soon as they see how it can benefit their customers, all Web 2 companies begin to embrace cryptography.”