Bitcoin (BTC) is now over a decade old. In a little over ten years, the cryptocurrency pioneer went from a fringe phenomenon to a globally-accepted alternative asset class with millions of holders across the globe. While this is impressive by all means for new technology, bitcoin is still far away from anything even closely resembling mass adoption.
Is Bitcoin’s sub-optimal user experience one of the biggest hurdles to this?
Buying BTC is easy, using it is not
If you want to buy bitcoin today, there is a multiple of apps and online platforms that enable you to do that within minutes. If you are buying a small amount, you may not even need to undergo KYC (know your customer) verification and can purchase BTC effectively like any other digital product online.
Bitcoin fiat-on ramps have made bitcoin investing simple, easy, and user-friendly. Regardless of whether you are 16 or 60, buying bitcoin online has reached a level of beginner-friendliness that anyone can become a bitcoiner.
However, that is where Bitcoin’s UX (user experience) stops being simple and easy.
As soon as you want to actually use bitcoin, the trouble starts. While an experienced bitcoiner who is used to copy and pasting alphanumerical numbers will have no issue sending or receiving money, for a first-time crypto user – let’s call him Craig – the story is different.
Let’s assume Craig is 60, has heard about bitcoin from his daughter, and now wants to buy some to send to her as a college graduation gift. He is an avid internet user – mainly to read the news, bet online, and chat with his friends on Facebook messenger – but beyond that, not overly tech-savvy.
He googles ‘buy bitcoin’ and ends up registering for a Coinbase account. He downloads the mobile app and proceeds to purchase USD 500 in BTC using his credit card. Filling in his personal details to get his account set up took him a while but he manages to do it. So far, so good.
But then, for Craig to send bitcoin to his daughter he needs her to send him her alphanumerical bitcoin wallet address. That is where the confusion already starts for Craig. He is worried about accidentally leaving out part of the address and almost gives up at this point. His daughter thanks him for the gift – as she is an avid bitcoiner – but has to talk him through the entire bitcoin sending process.
Once he understands the concept of bitcoin wallet addresses, he struggles with the figures on his screen. Why does it say 0.055 BTC when he just bought USD 500? Many bitcoin wallet apps’ default setting is to type in the BTC amount instead of the fiat currency amount, which can be another hurdle for newbies. And not to mention backing up a wallet.
Craig eventually manages to send his daughter BTC but walks away confused by the whole process. He understands – thanks to his daughter – why bitcoin is a good investment but struggles to see why anyone would want to actually use it.
Roselyne Wanjiru, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Nairobi-based blockchain startup Pesabase, believes that BTC could go the way of WhatsApp in terms of adoption if it manages to become as easy to use as the messaging app. Until then, however, it will struggle.
“The fact that the adoption of bitcoin hasn’t crossed 50 million users globally can be partially attributed to Bitcoin’s UX. For many people, it’s just a sea of numbers that don’t make sense. The next 500 million bitcoin users could be only a simpler user experience away,” she said.
According to her, the adoption of WhatsApp for many people wasn’t because of an ad they saw, but a friend who asked to send a photo or other media through WhatsApp.
“We don’t have to see a WhatsApp ad on TV now, because there are various groups with colleagues, family, alumni, and friends as well as other interests… If this isn’t mass adoption, can’t quite tell what is!” Wanjiru said.
“Then, there’s bitcoin… “What’s that?” you ask, not sure, having heard of digital gold, seamless payments, and other things that don’t add up. You take a look at it and see a sea of numbers and choose not to make sense of them since math isn’t WhatsApp-easy,” the CMO added.
Attempts to improve
While most BTC startups today seem to focus more on attracting investors to bitcoin as opposed to making bitcoin more user-friendly for users, there are a handful of entrepreneurs and developers who are actively working to address the issue.
It looks like, the founder of Lightning Network-focused startup Zap, Jack Mallers, is one of them.
He recently tweeted: “Bitcoin has shitty UX […] Not if I have anything to say about it. Soon @ln_strike. Don’t blink,” in addition to sharing a video of his company’s new product Strike.
Strike enables your bank account and debit card to “speak bitcoin” by allowing you to pay Lightning invoices using fiat currency.
Maller also acknowledged Bitcoin’s and Lightning Network’s challenging UX in a Medium post, where he announced Strike and his team’s motivation behind building it.
“Setting up a wallet, waiting for something you don’t understand to finish syncing, being limited in your ability by something called “capacity,” and having to buy bitcoin and manage backups was far too much for almost all users. Many of our testers didn’t even get to the point of purchase, it was all a bit overwhelming.”
With Strike, all you need is the app and a connected bank card to make payments over the Lightning Network. No alphanumerical wallet addresses, no wallet backup phrase to store, no complicated UX. While Strike is still in beta, it provides insight into what a user-friendly Bitcoin experience could look like in the future.
Meanwhile, as reported by Cryptonews.com, another startup, Bottlepay, is about to launch their new app that will feature fiat integration, enabling users to spend BTC from their national currency and avoid exposure to price fluctuations.
“There’s no conversion process. There’s no need to hold bitcoin, and you can suddenly now interact with the new sort of digital payments world,” according to Pete Cheyne, founder of this UK-based BTC wallet provider.
However, until these and other efforts get traction, for actual users – as opposed to investors – Bitcoin’s UX remains challenging for newcomers. However, it might change if this problem receives the amount of attention it deserves.
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