Bitcoin in the real world: Using the Blockchain app
Wednesday 23 April 2014
With so many wallet apps out there, BitScan are taking a look at several of the options and bringing you our reviewer's take on their ease of use, security and practicality. First put to the test: Blockchain.
Bitcoin is a digital currency and its users are instinctively at home on the Internet. Using exchanges and hot wallets is second nature, and paying for goods online is generally straightforward. The reality, though, is that many people limit their bitcoin activity to the online sphere. This is a shame, since it not only unnecessarily restricts the wider use of bitcoin and the growth of its infrastructure, but also means that potential customers never experience the benefits of using it for their day-to-day purchases. The good news is that using bitcoin as a way of carrying out real-world transactions is fast, simple and fun, thanks to the apps that have been developed to bridge the gap between cash-accepting businesses and cryptocurrency users.
The Blockchain app
Blockchain.info is the most popular hot wallet service. It’s free, easy to use and has over 1.5 million user accounts (though not all will be active). It also has an app, which not only gives you much of your wallet’s functionality on your smartphone, but allows you to make transfers in response to payment information provided by vendors. At present, the app is only available for Android – Apple having removed the iPhone app from their App Store, prompting this response from BitScan and these former iPhone aficionados (warning, contains some strong language and violence), amongst others.
Getting set up
The Blockchain app downloads quickly and integrates seamlessly with your online account, thanks to a neat feature that allows you to pair it with your wallet through a QR code. This is available from the Account Settings tab of your Wallet Home page. All you need to do is scan the QR code with your phone and the app is linked to your account. It fully syncs with your blockchain.info account, but if the site is down for any reason then you can still carry out P2P transfers by connecting directly to the blockchain itself. Neat touch, there. The app provides most of the functionality of the full online wallet service, plus a couple of welcome additional features like the ability to scan paper wallet QR codes to add them to your account. In general, it's a lot slicker than some of the rather clunky and limited third-party apps that have been developed for other platforms, like Windows 8 devices.
At installation you will be prompted to enter a four-digit pin code so that you can log in to your mobile account on your smartphone. You can optionally set a second password for greater protection when you make payments.
One minor complaint is that your pin code is not required at every sign-in. If you close and reopen the app soon afterwards, it is not required. Theoretically this could provide a short window within which your phone could be stolen and purchases made, though this is limited and the issue can be circumvented by using the second security code to prevent transactions being made. If someone enters the wrong pin 4 times then you’ll need to re-enter your full password.
Using the app
With set up and security taken care of, it’s time to look at how easy it is to use the Blockchain app for actual purchases. We tested it at the Devonshire Arms in Cambridge, UK, one of a chain of six pubs in the area that accepts bitcoin.
Really, it couldn’t be much easier. On requesting to pay with bitcoin you are given a receipt with a QR code, containing the details of your transaction (recipient’s address and amount). The ‘send’ arrow at the top of the screen on the app takes you to the relevant page, on which you can either manually enter the information required or, far more conveniently, scan it from the QR code. You don’t even need to press the camera button – simply passing the phone over the code is enough. Once it’s read the details, you’re asked for final confirmation and that’s it: the transaction is complete. The merchant checks to make sure it’s gone through from their end – no waiting for 6 confirmations, fortunately – and gives you your drink (coffee, in this instance, since it was only 2pm).
Overall, we’re extremely impressed with the Blockchain app. There were minor issues over how to access certain functions, but it was nothing that a minute or two of playing with it to find our way around didn’t overcome. The level of functionality is surprisingly good, meaning that using blockchain’s hot wallet service can largely be shifted to a mobile platform, if you want.
The Blockchain app is to blockchain.info’s wallet service what a mobile banking app is to your online bank account – with the difference that it’s much faster and more convenient to use to make purchases in the real world. If you’ve ever wondered how it works to use bitcoin to buy from physical stores, look no further: this is fantastic for bitcoining on the go, and the more places that accept bitcoins the better it’s going to be.
Verdict: a solid thumbs up and 9/10.
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