According to a description on Airbitz’s website, the wallet’s features and functionality include simple account creation using just a login and password; multiple wallets per account with simple user-defined wallet names; multiple fiat currency support; automatic wallet backup and multi-device synchronization; decentralized server architecture, allowing wallets to functions even if Airbitz servers are down; integration with Airbitz’s business directory; local client-side encryption of all user keys and data; and zero-knowledge and zero-access to user funds, keys, or data by Airbitz or third parties.
In an email to CoinReport, Airbitz co-founder and CEO Paul Puey said, “We are giving the bitcoin world the first mobile wallet that looks and feels like (if not better) than mobile online banking, but unlike Coinbase and Circle, gives users full control of their bitcoin.”
In an interview with CoinReport, Puey elaborated on the importance of individuals having control over their Bitcoins, saying:
“Full control over one’s bitcoin means no counterparty risk. A user doesn’t lose funds because a bank/hosted wallet goes out of business, or mismanages their funds, or because they’re told to seize an account. It is initially an ideological reason but there is also a technical reason. Hosted wallets hold a pool of customer’s funds and because of that they are a huge target for hackers. Therefore a majority of funds need to be held off-line for security. Therefore if a fraction of users decide to spend their funds, they may drain the entire pool of “hot” funds on the hosted wallet’s servers. At that point nobody else can spend until a person physically brings funds from off-line storage to online. This has caused MANY poor experiences for bitcoin users and has probably tarnished the reputation of bitcoin as a frictionless means of money transfer. Banks get away with this because digital fiat (USD, EUR) are transferred as debt. Actual funds do not move for days. In the bitcoin world, funds move instantly. It’s digital cash. Therefore funds need to be online and ready or they won’t get sent or received. When a user controls their private keys, they control when funds get sent and aren’t at the mercy of other users spending their funds.”
Puey said fixing the major pain points of using Bitcoin “as a true financial instrument” is a goal for Airbitz, which launched in January.
“As a bitcoin user, I found there were two main challenges: the nascent, scary, and unfamiliar wallet technology available to users, and the difficulty in finding places to spend bitcoin in an easy, usable app. We aim to fix both in one mobile app. We want to be the defacto app that bitcoin evangelists recommend to new users to get started with bitcoin. It’s easy and familiar to setup and quickly shows users where to spend their money.”
Puey noted that “the Bitcoin ecosystem is littered with overly complex, unfamiliar wallets that alienate the average user. Many require a user to print a backup of their wallet, or to ‘add’ encryption, or to write down a random 16 word passphrase if their device is lost or damaged. These are all incredibly foreign to users accustomed to basic online/mobile banking. We had a vision and an underlying technology that gives users the familiarity of mobile banking while offering them Bitcoin in its truest form.”
Puey told CoinReport that Airbitz wanted to launch the wallet at the Inside Bitcoins event “as we feel people will really resonate with our app when they can see it, feel it, and touch it.”
He added that the conference “happens to time well with our development and it’s looking to be one of the most well attended conferences in this quarter of 2014. We also are bringing the entire company to this conference as we want people to see and talk to the people behind the product. We are real people, visible in the community, and we want to hear their feedback face to face.”
Actively pursuing funding and intending to pitch to more investors, Airbitz also offers a Bitcoin Business Directory application for iOS and Android. The app is designed to help users easily find both local merchants and web-based business that accept Bitcoin.
“We’d like to do for the bitcoin ecosystem what Yelp & Foursquare have done for local businesses,” said Puey when asked about the inspiration for this product.
“We were somewhat inspired by other mobile wallets such as Square, LevelUp, and PayPal in that they provide a mobile wallet integrated with a business directory showing users where that wallet can be used. The difference however is that the bitcoin ecosystem is an open platform. Paypal requires a merchant to support one company’s closed system and the consumer to support the same PayPal system. With Bitcoin, the merchant can use any bitcoin payment processor or wallet and so can the consumer. So we were inspired by mobile apps from closed platforms and have applied it to an open ecosystem.”
Asked what he thinks it will take for Bitcoin to grow in terms of consumer adoption and also government/regulator recognition, Puey said he thinks Bitcoin is already recognized by governments.
“What we need is for the merchant and consumer adoption to grow to the point where any attempts to squash (Bitcoin) will significantly impact the economy of the city, state, or nation it’s in,” said Puey. “That’s how the internet grew so quickly and became very resistant to significant regulation. We need the nations that have been very open to bitcoin to show how an open and deregulated financial system can quickly spur incredible innovation and grow their economy. Other nations will quickly follow. What we don’t need is to put regulation on top of regulation on a free, open source technology.”
Images courtesy of Airbitz