Will This Make Bitcoin Mainstream?

Danielle Beurteaux

First there was the Internet. Then there was Netscape. Then, behold! There was the World Wide Web, the life-changing delivery system for cat videos and shopping.

Now there’s a new Web browser about to launch that wants to do the same thing for bitcoin. Based, according to the company’s Twitter account, in Brighton, UK, BitHappy is a browser that’s designed to enable e-commerce and donations using only bitcoin.

If bitcoin remains but a concept you’ve read or heard about, then you’re like most of us. Bitcoin was created in 2009 but is still a niche product that hasn’t yet caught on with the masses. Will BitHappy be the entry product that makes bitcoin accessible and widespread?

If, as Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told a crowd of students at Dublin’s Trinity College, “Your kids will not know what money is,” then bitcoin is a contender. Of course, Cook is thinking of Apple Pay. But whichever cashless technology comes out on top, ease of use and availability will be key. Bitcoin still has a problem, though: A lot of people don’t understand what it is, or how to use it.

The bitcoin universe is multi-faceted and growing more complex as a financial industry grows around it. There’s definitely money behind bitcoin technologies. Venture capital investment in bitcoin hit new heights earlier this year, but has sunk to more moderate levels as the year ends. There just hasn’t been a consistent consumer uptake in bitcoin usage. But that could be changing.

This chart shows bitcoin transactions from September 2009 until this fall, and there’s a gradual increase to some serious spikes more recently. There’s a good deal of speculation, but some is spending. The consumer-facing part of bitcoin is what matters if it’s to be more than an investment instrument.

These innovations could help consumers’ bitcoin adoption

Digital bitcoin wallet startup Coinbase just launched a Visa debit card that uses bitcoins. It can be used anywhere that accepts Visa in 25 states where it will probably be available. Coinbase wants to solve a very basic bitcoin problem: Consumers don’t use the currency because merchants don’t accept it, so consumers can’t use it, etc.

But that could really change if we started getting paid in bitcoin. Startup up Bitwage has raised $760,000 in seed funding. The year-old company offers both payroll for employers, claiming it’s a secure and quick way to pay international vendors, with better rates than bank. But if employers aren’t so bitcoin-enthusiastic, employees can get paid in bitcoin via a dedicated Bitwage bank account.

Apple’s Cook is correct in thinking today’s university students are tomorrow’s multi-currency users. Canadian university Simon Fraser in British Columbia now has bitcoin ATMs on campus (actually called an AVM).

Some bitcoin companies are banking on security as their main value proposition. ArcBit bills itself as a bitcoin wallet for beginners, with an emphasis on privacy and security. With no third-party to travel through, transactions stay private and secure, goes the thinking.

But for some, bitcoin’s main benefit is its anonymity, and that’s now under question. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month, the EU is instituting stricter controls on several payment methods, including bitcoin.

For more insight on virtual currencies, see New York State Aims For Sustainable Regulation Of Virtual Currencies.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.