Apple has removed the Blockchain wallet app from its iOS App Stores, leaving iPhone and iPad users with no native bitcoin wallet options for their devices.
Apple offered no explanation for the action and no option to appeal, other than saying the removal was due to "an unresolved issue".
The Cupertino company's move did not come as a complete surprise, as Apple had previously banned bitcoin wallet apps Coinbase and CoinJar, and insisted encrypted messaging app Gliph remove an option that allowed users to send bitcoin. CoinJar is still available for download on the local Australian App Store.
Blockchain had been available on the iOS App Store for over two years, and had been downloaded more than 120,000 times. Its native app for desktops was also removed from the Mac App store, though the slightly more open nature of OS X means users may still download and install this version from non-Apple sources.
Blockchain was scathing in its criticism of Apple's decision, posting the following statement on its blog:
"These actions by Apple once again demonstrate the anti-competitive and capricious nature of the App Store policies that are clearly focused on preserving Apple’s monopoly on payments rather than based on any consideration of the needs and desires of their users."
"[The app] had no customer complaints, and a broad user base. The only thing that has changed is that bitcoin has become competitive to Apple’s own payment system. By removing the Blockchain app, the only bitcoin wallet application on the App store, Apple has eliminated competition using their monopolistic position in the market in a heavy handed manner."
After its removal of bitcoin wallet apps from its App Stores for often vague reasons, others have also questioned whether Apple might be trying to enter the mobile payment space itself, where bitcoin wallet apps would become its competition.
Even Coinbase, one of the most popular bitcoin payment processors in the US, had its iOS app blacklisted just three weeks after it launched.
Users who previously downloaded bitcoin wallet apps may continue to use them, though updates are not possible and a device reset would see the apps gone forever.
The company and team behind the Blockchain app, also called Blockchain, was a one-man operation started by British developer Ben Reeves until the summer of 2013 when the team expanded to accommodate bitcoin's popularity boom. Reeves built the site Blockchain.info initially as an academic research tool to explore bitcoin's public ledger and the secrets it divulged about the curious workings of the bitcoin economy. Since then it has become the most regularly referenced site for anyone examining strange transactions, alleged crime, mistakes, and other obscure anomalies.
Sometimes called "The Google of bitcoin", Blockchain's team now consists of 14 people spread around the world on at least three different continents. Its wallet service also grew from humble beginnings as a side project into the world's most popular 'web-assisted' bitcoin storage option, going from 500,000 accounts at the beginning of November 2013 to over a million by the end of the year. The company intends to spin the wallet side of things into a separate commercial entity called Blockchain.com.
After Coinbase's own iOS App Store demise, Blockchain was the only native bitcoin wallet app available to Apple mobile device users. Launched in April 2012, its initial submission was rejected by Apple but the app was allowed into the store after some UI/UX tweaks. Its interface was thus more limited compared to its Android counterpart, but it was stable and had not been updated for iOS7 possibly due to fears that updates would need to be scrutinized again by Apple's approval team and risk a ban. In the end, it seems, Apple decided not to wait.
Bitcoiners abandoning Apple?
Apple's move could see a greater exodus of its bitcoin-using fans away from iOS and towards Google's Android platform, which has several wallet options that continue to be developed and updated to meet bitcoin's increasing popularity.
Kyle Drake, lead developer at Coinpunk.com, is working on a mobile app to run in a browser, eliminating Apple's ability to block it via an App Store ban. Upon hearing the news of Blockchain's fate he issued his own call to action:
“Bitcoin users, we need your help. We need you to take a stand against Apple, make noise, complain and show Apple that there will be consequences to their actions.”
Blockchain's statement continued to question whether Apple was any longer on the side of the rebels and innovators it once claimed as its base.
"The decision attacks a nascent and innovative technology that is empowering more than 2.5 million users on a vast variety of computing devices, around the world by giving them unfettered and complete control over their money, while disrupting centralized payment systems controlled by corporate behemoths."
"Unlike Apple, Google has accepted hundreds of bitcoin-related applications even though they also compete against the company’s own payment system 'Google Wallet'."
"Bitcoin is a revolutionary new peer-to-peer currency and payment system that is empowering millions around the world, especially the unbanked and underbanked who can use it to gain access to international banking facilities with nothing more than a smartphone."
"Bitcoin’s use for international payments from family members sending money home to support entire communities in the developing world and for charity fundraising and fund distribution will be severely affected by this decision. As of Wednesday, bitcoin is no longer available to those using iOS devices, once again leaving them to the mercy of oppressive currency controls and governments in some of the worst regimes in the world."
There is also an active petition on Change.org to allow bitcoin wallets to run natively on iOS devices, though whether it would elicit any official response from the notoriously silent Apple is doubtful.