Yesterday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization published a patent application from Apple for – wait for it – iMoney. Apple looks to get into the digital currency game in a way similar to Amazon Coins. The patent is a combination of virtual currency and digital wallet technology. It allows users to store money in the cloud and make payments with their iPhone.
Some possibilities for the patent include making money by viewing ads, where the user will receive tokens of iMoney that can be applied toward their mobile carrier costs or redeemed for Apple products and services. There may also be NFC - Near Field Communication - technology in the mix to communicate with point-of-sale terminals, which is something Apple has resisted adding to the iPhone for a long time. NFC allows smartphones to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them in close proximity.
Many people consider this as Apple trying to nudge into the digital currency arena, after already refusing to support mobile Bitcoin wallets or apps that allow Bitcoin trading, causing many Bitcoin enthusiasts and users of alt-currency to switch over to Android.
Apple's official anti-bitcoin policy is infuriating many of its users as the digital currency continues to become more mainstream. The company actually removed two Bitcoin wallet applications from its app store in May, prompting Bitpak's developer, Rob Sama, to lament, “[It is] extremely unfortunate that Apple has chosen to take this stand.” Blockchain for iPhone was also deleted from the app store.
Apple later explained to advocates that, “Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users. It is the developer's obligation to understand and conform to all local laws.” Of course, Bitcoin is an unregulated currency with no laws prohibiting it.
This is all typical of Apple – they're like the too-cool-for-school kids in the High School lunch room that all sit at a table together and don't interact with anyone around. They'll make fun of you for wearing a new hat. Then, the next day, they'll all be sporting the same hat and claim that it was totally their idea.
In this case, they're doing everything they can to completely refuse to have anything to do with Bitcoin, while at the same time filing a patent for their very own digital currency. They obviously like the idea, but want to keep it in the Apple family and, knowing Apple, they'll try to market this new virtual currency as some kind of better alternative to "unstable and volatile Bitcoin."
Josh Seims, just one iPhone user angry about Apple's anti-Bitcoin policy, submitted a petition on Change.org back in April that, so far, has received 317 supporters (with 183 more needed in order to reach its goal). I got in touch with him earlier today to ask for his feedback.
“The iMoney patent is an example of both good and bad effects of the concentration of power. On the good side, Apple's dominant power puts them in a good position to build a valuable and easy-to-use mobile payment system. They can customize their hardware to support this system, they can embed it into their operating system, and they can likely convince many merchants and banks to play along. These serious competitive advantages may result in significant end-user benefits.
On the other hand, this power can also be used to prevent competition. They may use this patent to attack anyone else building mobile payment solutions. And, by trying to collect a piece of transactional revenue, Apple is likely to oppose decentralized payment solutions like Bitcoin.”
I asked Josh if he thought Apple's patent was an initial step in trying to create their own competing digital currency while deciding not to play nice with others and corner the market. “They might,” he wrote back. “I wouldn't consider such a currency a big threat to Bitcoin since it will have all the same weaknesses that a decentralized currency like Bitcoin addresses.”
I'm a little weary of not considering Apple a threat, though. Time and time again Apple has come out with products and services that at first seem completely absurd (remember how stupid the iPad sounded? Then, remember how stupid the Mini iPad sounded?) but that begin picking up speed, creating entire new markets, and disrupting other ones, which they accomplish by an almost cult following, generational brand loyalty, and savvy marketing.
Only time will tell, but one thing seems certain – Apple would rather ignore and alienate a vast and growing demographic of Bitcoin users by not only striking down any apps that allow BTC storage and trading, but creating their very own digital currency, which is basically a final giant middle finger to anyone that was holding out hope that Apple would eventually change its mind on the Bitcoin issue.