Bitcoin is a phenomenon of the digital age, a currency without borders or regulation, a form of money that is totally anonymous – and, as a result, it has been taking off slowly but surely over the last five years, especially among geeks and tech-enthusiasts. If you have an iPhone then there are applications, widgets and utilities which can help you manage your bitcoin stash, send funds and keep a close eye on what the market is doing. Here’s a Top 5, hopefully with some variety, to spark your imagination and get you going with crypto-currencies.
Bitcoin is a complicated subject to get your head around, at least if you want to understand how it works, but essentially is an encrypted asset that has either been earned (through mining) or purchased using real world money. The encryption is massively strong and Bitcoin is perceived as being very secure. Why is an blob of binary data worth anything at all? Because it’s hard to create. ‘Mining’ Bitcoin, like mining gold in the real world, is very hard and requires powerful computers trying to solve and validate the encrypted transactions across the Bitcoin world. Which is partly why I haven’t recommended a Bitcoin mining application below – your smartphone would be drained of power by lunchtime and you’d still need to let it run (plugged in) for years to even have a small chance of earning a single Bitcoin.
5. CoinATMRadar (free)
The most common FAQ in the Bitcoin world (after “What is it?”) is probably “How do I buy and sell Bitcoin?” Now it’s not that difficult to prove enough of your ID to buy Bitcoin online, but it’s also not trivial, so the presence of physical outlets in the real world where you can roll up with cold, hard cash and walk away with digital money may well be an easier and more satisfying route. Not least because the comparatively few Bitcoin outlets will have (hopefully friendly) staff who can advise you on the currency and how it all works.
CoinATMRadar is the iOS application for the web service of the same name and is an up to date directory of all the physical shops and businesses that buy and sell Bitcoin. With a world map and drop-pins, every location is shown, and tapping a pin gives the business name and an ‘i’ (for ‘information’) shortcut, leading to full contact details and any particular buying and selling limits. For example, ‘buying only’, and ‘up to 500GBP’, that sort of thing. If you prefer, there’s also a textual list of ‘ATM’ locations, sorted by distance from your current location.
Pedants, at this point, will probably point out that there are few actual ‘ATM’s involved (as in cash-dispensing machines, though these do exist in some parts of the world), but the principle – of buying and selling Bitcoin in the real world – still very much applies.
4. Bitmap (free)
One of the other most common questions about Bitcoin is “What can you buy with it?” And the truth is usually “not very much”, at least not in the physical world – go into your local supermarket or department store and ask if you can pay them in Bitcoin and you’ll get a curt remark in response! Bitcoins main purpose is to enable transfer of funds between people and companies, of course – but there are some bricks and mortar stores and establishments which accept Bitcoin and that’s the purpose of Bitmap, of course. It shows where you can simply turn up and pay for something physical.
If you live near a major city then the chances are good that you can experiment with paying in this way, though the usual Bitcoin transaction delay may be an issue, depending on what you’re buying. The concept is simple and so is the interface – just a pinch-to-zoom map with bitcoin icons scattered over it, tap any to see the business name and follow through to the ‘i’ pane, which normally has the relevant web site queued up. But it’s all you probably need if you’re planning to spend some serious ‘coin’ in the physical world – the data here is from coinmap.org and the maps from OpenStreetMap.
I’d have liked to have seen more information about each Bitcoin venue displayed in the application itself, mind you – why not ‘tip’ the developer and support future development? Also, should you use the number one pick below then note that this also tries to show Bitcoin-accepting venues, albeit not quite to the same number.
The whole concept of buying from a real world business using Bitcoin is still new and probably deserves an article in its own right at some point!
3. Stocks (free)
Wait, what?! Stocks is one of the original (and core) iPhone applications, yet with a little help from you it can do something that none of the third party tools can, i.e. include a widget showing the latest Bitcoin pricing in your iPhone’s swipe-down ‘Today’ widgets pane. The trick is to know how to configure Stocks in the first place.
So yes, I’m cheating slightly in that this isn’t a third party tool, but it will feel like one in your widget pane, so here goes anyway. Go into Stocks from your home screen icon and tap on the (hamburger) menu control, bottom right. This will show the stocks you have configured, along with the preferred order. Now, although Bitcoin isn’t a company, there are several indexes online that can be accessed using the usual stocks mechanisms. I’ve entered two ‘stock symbols’ in the example here, “BTCUSD=X” and “^NYXBT”, but it’s really up to you. For best results, drag the right hand side handles to move the bitcoin indexes up to (near) the top of your stocks list.
What this all comes to is that your iPhone’s swipe-down widgets pane will now show up to date bitcoin status, complete with delta percentages or numbers (according to how you’ve got Stocks configured). All without installing an extra applications at all* – and that’s pretty cool.
* Several third party applications did hint at widget support, but in my iOS 10.2 testing none actually showed up in the ‘Today’ widgets pane.
2. CoinCap (free)
CoinCap is all about keeping on top of the value of crypto-currencies generally – Bitcoin is just one such, there are plenty of others. The idea here is to track your overall worth across your ‘altfolio’ (get it?!), with charts and constantly refreshing values, copious display options and search facilities for the most obscure currencies on the planet.
There’s an ‘Alert Manager’, but don’t get too excited, this only fires once a day at the most, giving an extremely coarse warning system for often volatile crypto-currencies, plus you can only delete alerts once set up, you can’t edit them. Still, there’s a very real sense of excitement on the main ‘view’ pane, watching currency prices being refreshed, changing before your very eyes.
1. Blockchain Bitcoin Wallet (free)
Given how compute-intensive handling Bitcoins is, it’s not surprising that mobile computers such as smartphones are perfect tools to help you manage your encrypted Bitcoins, sending parts of them to other people or receiving them in turn. The concept here is of a digital ‘wallet’ and there are dozens of application which do the job, but the best wallet app for iOS is the one that’s made by the company online that you choose to host your Bitcoins.* So, for example, I use the biggest in the field, Blockchain.info, and helpfully they have a first party application shown here. But if you use a different online Bitcoin wallet then by all means substitute my no. 1 pick here for the application managing your own digital cash.
* Yes, you can ‘keep’ your Bitcoins on your local computer, but what happens if your hard disk dies? You’re then into a whole world of restoring backups and messing around – it’s far easier to store Bitcoins in the cloud. Just as with other documents these days, in fact.
Using Bitcoin Wallet is easy, thanks mainly to QR codes (those two dimensional blocky grids you see on products) – what is a long and unmemorable address to send Bitcoins to is ultra-simple to enter through simply pointing your iPhone’s camera at the relevant QR code. Ditto for receiving Bitcoins, for example from a friend, just show them the QR code in the app and they instantly have your own (equally unmemorable) Bitcoin address.
Protected by a two-step set-up sequence per device, there’s just a 4 digit PIN to enter each time you go into the application. In short, whichever first party wallet you choose (Coinbase is perhaps the other main option here), it’s the appropriate pinnacle of Bitcoin applications on your iPhone.
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