While 2022 will likely most be remembered as the year of “The Merge” as well as the fall from grace of industry stalwarts such as FTX, Three Arrows Capital and Terra, another less-appreciated but influential trend emerged in 2022: Crypto finally woke up to the importance of mobile.
Almost every investor and founder in crypto says their focus is onboarding the next billion users to crypto. Most estimates put the total number of crypto users at 300 million or so. Which means we need to get to the first billion before we can get to the next. We will never do this without really embracing mobile tech.
Estimates suggest that more than 90% of the world have mobile phones and 83% (i.e., 6.6 billion people) have smartphones. Meanwhile, less than half of the world’s population have computers in their homes.
Metaverse projects also emerged on the global stage this year as well as a seminal book on the field: “The Metaverse,” by Matthew Ball. Yet, despite all the buzz around virtual worlds, my bet is 10 years from now most of the world will not own VR goggles but will be leveraging mobile tech and still engaging in the real world, albeit increasingly enhanced with AR, more than virtual worlds with goggles on.
In 2022 the crypto industry made several collective strides towards improved user experience and even hardware to support mobile adoption of crypto. Solana made a real splash earlier this year when it announced the launch of a crypto-based, Android phone called Saga. To be honest, like many other crypto observers, my initial take was to dismiss it because Saga is only going to seamlessly support Solana wallets and the Solana ecosystem. However, it turns out Solana is open sourcing the platform in ways that will allow Ethereum and other layer 1 and layer 2 blockchains to provide support for apps on other blockchains. Polygon also recently announced its intention to collaborate with phone manufacturers to make it easier for Web3 users to transact on the phone. Meanwhile, Celo is a mobile-first layer one blockchain that emerged in 2022 with growing developer interest.
Not to be outdone, the Helium Network, which says it has more than 1 million decentralized hotspots for its internet of things (IoT) network, announced the launch of Helium Mobile in August. Helium Mobile is the first people-powered 5G mobile network. Recent reports, however, have cast doubt on the validity of Helium’s claims and the actual utility of Helium Mobile as the network functions mostly indoors due to an overreliance on indoor radio antennas for the network.
Then there is more on the application side. I fully agree with many who believe that gaming could be the path to onboarding the first full billion and helping accelerate the second billion, too. But, again, to reach the masses, games will need to be accessible and enjoyable on mobile devices.
This year witnessed the emergence and rapid growth of several Move2Earn games including GenoPets, SweatCoin and Stepn. While it is not easy to build a sustainable economic model with Move2Earn, the potential to leverage the hardware in smartphones to encourage people to game on the move and earn from doing so is quite cool.
The latest news suggests Apple sees the dollar signs on the non-fungible token craze and has now planned to apply its 30% extractive platform fees to NFT sales from native apps hosted in Apple’s app store. While some applauded the move as further evidence of the mainstreaming of crypto, as a founder of an NFT-based Move2Earn game I am horrified at the thought of Apple applying a 30% take rate off the top. This is a main reason so many of us embrace Web3 as a path to more inclusive community-owned projects where the value creators and contributors share more than the Web 2 gatekeepers. Furthermore, Apple is applying restrictions on NFT-based apps that leverage NFT for in-app utility. That is to say, Apple is happy to monetize 30% of digitally owned “JPEGs” but not NFTs with utility, which is counter to the direction most NFT projects are headed.
The year 2022 in crypto will likely be remembered most for the bear market exacerbated by several bad actors. However, from a building perspective it should also be the year that marked a turning point in the crypto industry’s commitment to user experience, user interface and hardware for mobile devices. If we are to onboard the next hundred million and billions more, mobile must be front and center.