On Monday, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire announced the launch of the company’s new native apps for both iOS and Android. The apps join an elite class, previously dominated only by Coinbase, of smartphone tools that allow U.S. users to buy or sell Bitcoin on their mobile devices.
From the first interaction, you can tell clean design was a priority. Minimalism is emphasized and the features are well laid out; there’s no confusion finding what you are looking for.
Along with facilitating the purchase and sale of Bitcoin, the app lets you send and request money using your phone’s email contacts or Bitcoin addresses, and perform in person transactions using QR codes. Circle never charges fees for sending payments and also guarantees all of the money users store with them is insured if their “security measures are compromised.”
The app is not without flaws. While there is a “Help” section, rather than allowing for in-app chat this simply takes you to the main customer service section on Circle’s website. Also, when I log into my account page it shows previous activity from when I first signed up for Circle and received $10 of Bitcoin. For some reason though, the transactions are listed as errors and the amount is presented as gibberish.
Another issue is that there’s no option for changing the display of your account balance with the Android app. I understand Allaire’s belief that emphasizing users’ local currency is important for widespread adoption, but there’s no reason to not give seasoned users the option of seeing their account balance denominated in Bitcoin.
These are small problems, but in my opinion take away from the user experience and will prevent me from using the app as my main mobile wallet. Allaire has admitted that the app is still in its early stages, saying “We think we're moving things in the right direction, but by no means do we think that these products are ready for the masses.”
Circle shouldn’t be worried about an avalanche of users anytime soon. Through the first two days their apps have been downloaded less than 5,000 times on the Apple and Android stores combined. Speaking with Bloomberg TV Allaire admitted that, since their launch in mid-September, Circle hasn’t quite attracted the trendy audience featured on their homepage’s background.
“We launched our service about a month ago and it’s interesting to see the kinds of users. A lot of the design center for Circle was how do we move from the early adopters into more mainstream users. And, it’s interesting, a lot of the users that are coming in are still early adopters. Their people who want to buy and hold and own Bitcoin and we don’t think that’s a mainstream use case, really. We think a more mainstream use case is actually using Bitcoin for its utility value. Secure, instant, global, free payments, which is really powerful and we haven’t yet seen that shift.”
Despite this lack of traction, Circle is already planning on expanding their business internationally (currently their services are only available to U.S. consumers). Allaire said in the release blog post that we should “expect to see Circle’s apps available in more markets, languages and currencies.”
He also added that they are particularly excited about the Android app because the OS becoming widespread in the developing world. According to Allaire “Low-cost Android phones are coming to markets like India, Indonesia, and Africa, where the vast majority of users don’t have bank accounts, and where digital currency services could become a critical new utility.”
Whether or not these users will be more receptive than U.S. customers to using Circle’s services for transmitting money via Bitcoin remains to be seen.
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