I have consistently pointed out the need for End-to-end thinking about cryptocurrencies. You cannot focus exclusively on the blockchain, the network protocols, APIs, or “consensus” processes. You have to engineer and design the whole picture from user to service and to other users.
This is particularly important in (often overheated) discussions of “decentralization”, which describe the great virtues of blockchain based protocols and digital signature based transactions. But the real world systems still employ many “centralized” services, including exchanges (which are routinely attacked) and other software (such as PayPal and Amazon, which have their own agendas).
This month saw another illustration of this point, thanks to Apple.
As anyone who has tried to develop software for iOS devices knows, the only way to publish your app is via the Apple Store, and they (Apple) have final say on whether or not you can do so.
Regardless of how well you researched your market and developed your app, Apple reserves the right to tell you that it can’t be sold or even given away to users of iPhones and iPads. This review process is more than a little opaque, as Apple appears to apply a mix of corporate goals, some semi-subjective design objectives, and some legal criteria.
In the realm of cryptocurrencies, this process has played out in typically mysterious ways.
First of all, we should note that Apple has it’s own products in the digital payment world, and would like nothing else than to have you pay with “iMoney” or whatever (and probably get loans from the “iBank”). So cryptocurrencies not controlled by Apple do not fit their strategic plan at all.
Therefore, it was not very surprising that until 2014 Apple basically blocked key software that use any cryptocurrency. Given that these directly compete with Apple Pay, it is easy to see the logic of this position.
So, no matter how “decentralized” Bitcoin might be, and how “uncensorable” the Internet might be, the most popular mobile devices are controlled by a single, aggressively monopolistic, company. And Apple can, and has at times, “censored” access to Bitcoin on its devices.
In 2014 this policy moderated, with a new guideline”
“Apps may facilitate transmission of approved virtual currencies provided that they do so in compliance with all state and federal laws for the territories in which the app functions.“
Since that time, Apple has “approved” Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum (all with substantial legitimate corporate power), but not others, such as darkcoin/dash (favored by black markets) and, interestingly, Ethereum “classic” (the rump branch of the Ethereum fork). Also, Apple reflects local laws, blocking some apps due to legal restrictions in some jurisdictions (e.g., China).
Overall, it is a hazy and unpredictable situation. This is, as I said, pretty much the norm for the Apple Store. The “look and feel” of iOS publishing, if you will.
As far as cryptocurrencies are concerned, the Apple Store is a reminder that all the decentralization in the world does not help when there is a “centralized” gatekeeper, including one run by an opaque powerful multinational corporation. And, I would note, that Apple has no interest at all in “disruption”, except by Apple.
Of course, there is no shortage of other ways to access cryptocurrencies, even if you can’t use your iPhone for what you want to do.
I would say that the main harm is that for all the trendy people who love their iPhone because it looks cool will have a harder time using cryptocurrencies in everyday life. Anyone whose iPhone is all they know about the Internet will have a distorted view of cryptocurrencies (and everything else). If nothing else, cryptocurrencies aren’t “cool” in the Apple world, which matters more than it should to people who ought to know better.
But honestly, Apple’s filtering is a general problem. As a developer of free software for academic and scientific use, with very limited funding, I found the iOS approval process almost impossible to deal with. Every release of every app has to go through a labor intensive, 30+ day, crap shoot? For something we are giving away? That’s just not feasible.
Now that’s something I’d like to see “disrupted”.