Apple hints it may start allowing Bitcoin apps


Apple tossed a bone to the world’s bitcoin services this week. But not all of them are reaching for it. At its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, Apple seemed to make nice with the world’s most popular digital currency, hinting that it may allow bitcoin wallet apps back onto the iPhone and the iPad, and several outfits say they plan on resubmitting their apps for inclusion in the Apple App Store, the gatekeeper for all iOS software. But others are so unhappy with the way Apple banned the digital currency earlier this year, they’ve resolved to avoid Apple hardware entirely. The fact of the matter is that if bitcoin is going to have any shot at replacing cash or credit cards, we’ll need wallet apps on smartphones.

That’s how people use bitcoin to pay for lattes in coffee shops or settle fares in taxi cabs. These apps are widely available on Android phones, and at one point, many were available in the Apple App Store too, including wallets from startups Coinbase and Blockchain. But over the past year, Apple made an unexplained decision to remove such apps from the Store.

Apple seemed to make nice with the world’s most popular digital currency, hinting that it may allow bitcoin wallet apps back onto the iPhone and the iPad. When the last major app–Blockchain’s bitcoin wallet–was pulled a few months back, bitcoiners were so angry, they started smashing, shooting, and otherwise destroying their iPhones.

But the rather touchy situation took another turn at WWDC. With its new App Store Review Guidelines–the Cupertino bible that lays out what software developers shalt and shalt not do–Apple added a new section that addresses digital currency.

“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,” the guidelines now read. The company didn’t say whether bitcoin–or indeed any existing virtual currency–is on this list. And it did not respond to a request for comment on the matter. But the fuzzy new guidance is good enough for many companies that offer bitcoin wallet apps.

Andreas Antonopoulos, the chief security officer with Blockchain, tells us the company plans on resubmitting its app to the App Store within days.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” says Antonopoulos.

CoinBase says it will re-submit too. Ben Davenport, a chief product officer with another bitcoin startup called BitGo, says his company will submit a brand new mobile app, though he can’t say when this will happen. And the makers of Gliph–an iOS secure texting app that allows bitcoin payments–say they will try and restore the tools they were forced to remove because of Apple’s prohibitions.

But some bitcoin developers have no intention of dealing with the App Store. The makers of the Hive wallet say that after Apple instituted its bitcoin ban, they moved to a web-based HTML5 wallet that could be used with the iPhone Safari browser, in lieu of a downloadable app.

“[W]e generally want to stop supporting proprietary, centrally managed platforms,” says Wendell Davis, Hive Wallet’s CEO. “Apple has the greatest user interface designers in the world, no doubt, but we no longer see this as the right way to engage in the business of computing.”

Andreas Schildbach, the developer of Android Bitcoin Wallet app, feels much the same way. “Apple’s indiscriminate policy has always kept me from developing for them,” he says.

Dmitry Murashchik, a community manager with the Mycelium wallet project says he’s not sure if Mycelium will submit an IOS app.

“Since that would be a time-consuming project, and we already have another project underway, we may wait until we are sure that Bitcoin apps are really allowed,” he says.

Unless Apple changes its policies in big ways, it won’t win back the entire bitcoin community.

“Apple pissed off a good many developers,” says Adam Levine, a bitcoin enthusiast and the host of the Let’s Talk Bitcoin internet audio show. “More importantly, they demonstrated that their ecosystem is arbitrary. They do what they want, when they want, with no public input.”

But it looks like most of the popular app-makers are going to come around. Apple’s platform is simply too important for bitcoin companies to ignore.

“People might think that they’ve been heavy-handed in this case,” Davenport says. “But now that the tide has turned…the people who need to run a business and reach users are going to get over it.”

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