Circle goes surprisingly global with the public launch of its user-friendly bitcoin wallet



When Circle previewed its bitcoin wallet and exchange platform in May, then in public beta, I called it the “CryptoBank of America.” It was a nod to the company’s focus on consumers, rather than merchants, its commitment to leading with free, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing products, its desire to serve the underbanked, and its aim of challenging the legacy banking system. In other words, this wasn’t a futuristic financial platform for the pocket-protector class, but one for everyday folks.

Today, Circle removed the velvet ropes and launched its product publicly. A lot of what I like about Circle early on remains, but it seems I was wrong about at least one thing: My choice of “America” as a descriptor was a bit shortsighted. The most striking thing about today’s launch is Circle’s international focus.

Circle is available at launch to consumers across the globe. The platform supports 160 different currencies (responsively, based on a user’s IP address) and seven languages: Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German and English – which it says in a blog post will allow it to “cover approximately 40% of the world’s population.”

Circle’s international users won’t yet be able to connect a bank account, but they can deposit money using a Visa or Mastercard or transfer in bitcoins purchased elsewhere. They’ll also be able to send bitcoin to any email address in the world using the Circle wallet.

It’s an unusual strategy, considering Coinbase, Xapo, and nearly all of the company’s others competitors have elected to restrict foreign usage until establishing banking partnerships in each individual market. It could allow Circle to onboard early adopters in these non-US markets, particularly those with existing bitcoin holdings who are interested in bitcoin commerce or speculative trading. But for mainstream users, local banking support is likely an essential feature, which means that Circle’s head start in foreign markets will be tied to its ability to outrace competitors in negotiating these banking relationships.

Relatedly, the first company to bridge the US with another major market for immigrant workers (like Mexico or the Philippines) could make a major splash by enabling zero-fee international remittances. But with Circle’s fee-free approach, this would be more impactful from a usage perspective than revenue generation. The company has had little to say about how it plans to monetize the service, but it would seem that additional services like lending and escrow would be natural additions.

As was the case during Circle’s early summer beta launch, where the product excels today is in its simplicity and ease of use. In an entry on its blog today, the company wrote:

When we set out to build Circle, we imagined a new kind of Internet-centric consumer financial service, one that the average person would find enjoyable and powerful, built on the promises of Bitcoin – instant, global, secure, free transactions.

Outlining its initial product aims, it points to:

Reduce[ing] the friction that so many people – even sophisticated, technology-savvy people – often experience in acquiring and spending Bitcoin. Starting today, people can onboard into a Circle account and begin using digital money within minutes, not days. And Circle eliminates the labyrinth of fees and complex user interfaces designed for traders.

So, the question is, did Circle succeed in this aim? As someone who’s used the product in beta for several months, I’d say, yes. Circle is every bit as aesthetically pleasing and intuitive as it was heralded pre-launch. It’s the first bitcoin product that I could conceivably see my mother using. The company also helped push the industry forward by being the first to announce fully-insured consumer wallet accounts – a feature that has since been duplicated by Coinbase and Xapo – further easing the transition from fiat to virtual-currency.

Where Circle still has room to improve is in mobile. The company teased upcoming native apps for both iOS and Android at a recent conference, but have yet to release anything into the wild. Until then, consumers will be relegated to using the inferior-by-comparison mobile Web version of the product. But this seems to be a fair compromise – and likely a short-lived one – for such a newly launched product. With $ 26 million raised from investors like General Catalyst Partners, Accel Partners*, Breyer Capital, Oak Investment Partners, Bitcoin Opportunity Fund, and Pantera Capital, there’s little doubt that the company will continue to iterate quickly.

Bitcoin has been called “the Internet for money (or value).” After several years of pundits (rightly) claiming that bitcoin was too abstract and too complicated to ever truly challenge fiat money, aka “cash,” Circle hints at a future where value may be as liquid as information. The company, and the crypto-currency ecosystem as a whole have a long way to go. But whereas before there were doubts as to whether bitcoin could ever be called “accessible,” Circle suggests this is no longer the case.

(*Disclosure: Accel is an investor in Pando.)



12 Most User-Friendly Photo Apps for the Novice Photographer

12 Most User-Friendly Photo Apps for the Novice Photographer

I have always been an admirer of awesome photos. But when it came to actually shooting them myself, I would freeze. Cameras intimidated me. Even digital photography seemed beyond my comprehension.

I couldn’t see through that little peephole. I couldn’t hold the camera steady. I left the photo taking to others.

But with the ubiquitous camera feature on smartphones, everyone can be a photographer. Photos are easier to take — and with the availability of cool photo apps on my iPhone, even I can make ho-hum photos spring to life.

Want to impress your friends and family? Try out one or more of these apps on your photos. Most of them are free.

1. Camera+

I use Camera+ instead of Camera as my default. Why? I can preview my photos and do a little editing if desired, then save them to my camera roll. Or I can keep them in Camera+ purgatory until I decide their fate later. Often the “clarity” option will do a quick and easy edit that serves my purpose, especially if I am in a rush.

2. Snapseed

This is my go-to app for the next round of editing. Beyond the basic editing features, there are effects such as grunge, HDR and drama that makes the photo look more nuanced and unique.

3. Over

When I think some funky text or artwork would add a cool dimension to my photos, this is the app I use. Over gives you many fonts and art for free, but there are also deluxe versions that you can purchase for a nominal fee.

4. Tangent

Although not appropriate for every photo, the effects on this app produce stunningly artistic designs. Tangent also features patterns and shapes that can be used as one or more overlays on your photos. You can truly flex your artistic muscles with this one.

5. LensLight

With optical effects such as stars and rays of light in all colors of the spectrum, this app can put a finishing touch on a photo that gives it just the right pizazz. I love using the bokeh effect — an aesthetic blur — that can be very captivating.

6. PhotoFunia

How would your photo look framed on the wall of the Louvre? On the cover of Esquire? Or on a billboard in Times Square? Just upload it into one of the templates, and bam!

7. PhotoSketch

Want to use a pencil-drawn version of your photo? This app will transform it with one easy click. It also can do a reverse color effect which can be quite impressive-looking.

8. Aviary

Along with the basic editing tools, this app includes stickers, like hats and mustaches, that can be slapped on a photo for a whole new look. My favorite feature is “splash” that allows you to drop in a burst of color on a black and white photo.

9. Cinemagram

Similar to Vine, this app will create an animated meme out of a 2-3 second video that you upload. You see these all the time on Google+.

10. InstaShapes

Crop your photos into a variety of shapes with this app. I like the effect of a photo peeking out from behind a cutout.

11. Pixlr Express

This app really has it all, and then some. The basic and advanced editing tools, yes, but so much more. Overlays, effects, borders. Amazing.

12. Collect

Not an editing app per se, but a scrapbooking tool that lets you organize photos. For example, I curated my photo-a-day submissions into a monthly calendar.

Whether it’s for personal enjoyment or business applications, these photo apps can take your photos from awful to awesome. Which photo apps do you use?

Helene Cohen Bludman

Helene Cohen Bludman has a career in marketing and communications and now is a full-time writer. She blogs at Books is Wonderful about navigating the white water turbulence of midlife, often without a paddle.

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