Currency

Altcoins Can Leapfrog Bitcoin with Better UX


April 27, 2018
By Special Guest
Justin Zalewski, Director of Product Design, Studio Science -

For many cryptocurrency investors, it’s a familiar story. You read about a promising cryptocurrency, and can’t wait to invest. You sign up for Coinbase to start. If all you want is Bitcoin, Ether or the two other supported coins, great – you’re set. If not, welcome to the bureaucratic, server-delay morass that is altcoin trading.

The learning curve for obtaining, selling, trading and spending most altcoins is obstructively steep, to the point of blocking would-be investors and limiting the coins’ potential. Grabbing the next highly-coveted spot in a popular exchange will eliminate user-experience (UX) barriers and open the gateway into the mainstream. For now, however, it seems that only the lucky few altcoins will win this lottery.

In order to dethrone Bitcoin, altcoins need to think bigger. User experience is the place to start.  

Why Altcoins?

Think of Bitcoin as AOL in the mid-90s. It will forever be credited as the coin that launched the world into cryptocurrency, but it’s destined to be left behind by a newcomer that better serves the needs of the people.

The limitations of Bitcoin are becoming easier to see. If you’ve bought, sold, or transferred Bitcoin recently, you’ve experienced the painful transfer delays and ridiculously high processing fees firsthand. The fact that the Bitcoin website still advertises fast transactions and low processing fees is laughable.

The people behind the many altcoins on the market today have seen these limitations and improved upon the original Bitcoin technology in various ways. The result is a market full of coins that are more scalable and more efficient than Bitcoin. So why isn’t everyone trading them?

UX within Cryptocurrency Today

The majority of cryptocurrencies on the market today cannot be purchased directly. Despite the promise of speed and efficiency, altcoin investors must follow a tedious process to acquire, convert, contain, and protect their coins.

To get your hands on some ARK, Gridcoin, PIVX, Sia, Steem, or any of the hundreds of altcoins on the market, you need to:

  1. Download the wallets for the desired coins (and in most cases, wait hours for the blockchain to catch up);
  2. Purchase a more mainstream coin (Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin) on an exchange that accepts fiat currency (Coinbase, Gemini, Kraken);
  3. Use a separate, more cryptocurrency-focused exchange (Bittrex, Poloniex) to convert into the desired cryptocurrency and deposit into your local wallets (as long as the exchange isn’t experiencing downtime or significant delays due to a spike in demand);
  4. Back up your wallets (ideally into multiple locations).

I’m intentionally ignoring the option of mining new coins, which has an even higher barrier to entry, and is a whole other discussion.

The tedious UX of most cryptocurrencies prevents people from having easy access to the broader set of cryptocurrency options available. While the cause of the UX problem is sweeping – delays related to demand surges and Bitcoin’s slow, expensive transfers are just a small part of the issue – one thing is clear. UX is the main obstacle preventing otherwise promising altcoins from gaining more mainstream adoption.

Glimpses of Progress

No single altcoin or service has tackled the full set of UX issues, but there is progress being made in a few instances:

  • Lightweight Wallets – Lightweight wallets, like Electrum, allow you to start using your wallet without having to download the entire blockchain. They also offer other benefits like using a passphrase to unlock and restore your wallet – even if you lose your hardware or your software fails.
  • New Ways to Trade – Exchanges like flyp.me allow for easy exchanges between cryptocurrencies without requiring any kind of account registration. Wallets like Jaxx and Coinami allow for trading cryptocurrencies without even having to go to an exchange.
  • MobileCoin – Moxie Marlinspike created Signal and brought encrypted messaging into the mainstream by making it as easy as the non-secure messaging people were used to. He’s looking to do the same thing for cryptocurrency as part of the team at MobileCoin. It’s not available yet, but keep an eye out for this one.

In the months ahead, we’ll see more services stepping up to improve the experience of buying and trading coins. But, an altcoin that thinks about UX as a core feature – and in a way that limits its reliance on outside services – will have a significant competitive advantage.

There are many great altcoins that have vastly improved upon Bitcoin, but it won’t matter if the experience of buying, selling and using the currency remains constrained by the current process. To truly dethrone Bitcoin, altcoins need to be more than a technological improvement. They need to provide a seamless experience.  

About the author: Justin Zalewski, Director of Product Design at Studio Science, where he directs a team of UI/UX designers and developers focused on digital product design and development. Before joining Studio Science, Justin provided freelance design and development services, while also acting as the Senior Graphic Designer at Central Restaurant Products, where he managed email marketing campaigns, product photography, multivariate testing campaigns, SEO optimization, web design and development. Since joining Studio Science in early 2013, Justin has had the opportunity to work with clients from small startups to world-renowned brands, including Salesforce, Angie’s List, Stack Overflow, and MailChimp.




Edited by Erik Linask

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