It might seem as if Bitcoin has been part of our lives forever, but it hasn’t hit the critical mass that many Bitcoin advocates loosely predicted.
Still, that doesn’t mean that companies, organizations, and even individuals aren’t trying like hell to find the Bitcoin tipping point. The Jeremy Allaire-founded Circle recently expanded its Bitcoin exchange to include the ability to store and transfer dollars through its system. MIT just launched the MIT Digital Currency Initiative through the MIT Media Lab. And, Marc Andreessen is still VERY bullish on the cryptocurrency.
One major stumbling block for Bitcoin has been finding a usefulness for the general public, and, even more importanly, the growing number of mobile device users that is exploding across the globe.
Today, Bitcoin mobile wallet company Coinbase launched updated versions of their mobile applications for Android and iOS that allow users to instantly upload bitcoins. With the release, the company is also giving 100 free bits to new users who create and verify their Coinbase accounts. (A bit is a smaller denomination, or subdivision, of a Bitcoin representing one millionth or 0.000001 of a bitcoin.)
As the company said in a blog post announcing the latest app updates, “The open, inclusive nature of Bitcoin has the potential to bring financial access to the billions of people that aren’t adequately served by traditional payment infrastructure. There are many things that need to be accomplished before billions of people can unlock the power of Bitcoin, and our mission is to continue to lay the building blocks that are essential to making this happen.”
The company’s distribution of bits to new customers, even though it’s a small denomination of bitcoin, may appeal to a lot more people — FREE MONEY!!! — who have been hesitant to jump into the crypto-speculation game as well as the increasing number of mobile users in emerging markets like South Africa, Brazil, and India (where a small denomination of bitcoin, or any psuedo-currency, can make mobile airtime more affordable.)
One aspect of Coinbase’s new app release hints that it has the latter in mind with one aspect of the update. In addition to new versions of the app for iOS and Android, the company included support for older Android mobile devices going back five years to the Android Gingerbread OS. The point that the company is making is that Coinbase users do not need the latest technology to be able to take part in the exchange of Bitcoin.
In an interview, the company’s mobile lead Ankur Nandwani said that adding support of the older versions of Android allows the company to be used in different countries where people are buying cheaper, older used phones. “We’ve optimized our app so that it will work seamlessly on those devices, across all the versions of Android,” Nandwani said.
“We are making it easier for people in the developing world to manage and enter a Bitcoin portfolio from their phone,” he said. “They don’t need a computer or a desktop for entry into Bitcoin.”
Nandwani said that the one of the hardest aspects of expanding globally, especially to emerging markets, is to get people the opportunity to experience Bitcoin, which is where the 100 bits giveaway plays a role. The Coinbase mobile lead explained that while it’s not a lot of money, in a developing country like India, 100 bits could actually help pay for mobile connectivity. “It’s not a lot of money but it can help people partake in micro-transactions and see how powerful Bitcoin could be.”
Coinbase is not alone in trying to find an user base for Bitcoin outside of the U.S. — Circle is trying to make greater inroads in China for instance — but it may have a more interesting strategy by making a play to get more mobile users across the world a familiarity with the crypto-currency.