What is the best bitcoin wallet for iOS?

When I gave my first Intro to Bitcoin talk at Dojo Bali, I tried to lure people by saying I’d be giving out massive prizes of 100,000 satoshi and that people needed to download a wallet to their phone to be in with a chance of winning.

Come the day of the talk, only one person had installed a wallet.  When I asked why, it wasn’t because they’d discovered that the prize was actually worth less than a pound, it was something like ‘I started researching wallets but it wasn’t clear which one was best.  So I didn’t install any’.

Choosing a wallet for your mobile is not like choosing a life partner, or a bank.  You can change your mind, you can have multiple wallets, and you can move your bitcoin fairly easily from one to another.  Wallet apps are free and they all give you the same basic functionality of sending, receiving and storing bitcoin.

Like everything to do with bitcoin, the subject can get really complex and I am not surprised that people got lost with the myriad options but we were talking about storing less than the price of a coffee and still people got paralysing option anxiety.  A classic case of the best being the enemy of the good-enough!

So I am going to make it really easy for you.  This isn’t going to be a comprehensive list of all the different options; I am going to tell you which wallet I think is more than good enough for you to get started and then give you a few reasons why.

So with all that out of the way, the ‘best’ wallet for iOS is:

Drum roll….

breadwallet

At this point you can just visit the app store, download it, find someone to give you a few hundred bit* and start your adventures in crypto.  Have fun!

Or, if you really need to justify every decision you make and win possible future arguments in the pub, read on.

Here are a few reasons for the choice:

Simplicity

breadwallet focuses on just two screens: send and receive. Swipe to move between them. There’s some nice contextual help the first time you use the app to guide you.

If you want to transfer money (with any bitcoin wallet) there are two ways to do it: sexy or awkward.  The sexy way is to scan the recipient’s QR code with your phone’s camera.  The awkward way is to copy and paste the bitcoin address.

breadwallet is all about good UX and gives you simple choices rather than overwhelming you with options and making you think.

And there are nice, thoughtful touches.  For example if, say, the recipient has sent you their address in an SMS, then breadwallet makes it less awkward by only making you copy; you don’t have to paste.  These UX details may seem tiny but they’re important.

When you receive bitcoin, you can either specify how much you want or leave that up to the sender. My only criticism of the breadwallet interface is that it’s not obvious how to specify the amount if you use QR.

Answer: even if using QR, click on the text address to bring up the following options:

Enter the amount, then hit ‘request’ to generate a new address and QR with the amount specified baked in.

Bitcoin, *bit, satoshi

breadwallet gives you nice big buttons to specify amounts and you’ll notice that these amounts are in the local currency and ‘bits’, not whole bitcoin.

1 bitcoin = 1,000,000 bits = 100,000,000 satoshi

breadwallet has made the choice to go with ‘bits’ by default.  Some people hate this, but I think it’s sensible.

How much for a flat white?
That will be zero-point-zero-three bitcoin, please

Never going to work.

Techie users would prefer the SI version:

…three thousand microbit, please

Better, but still too nerdy for the masses.

…three thousand bit

Just seems to work.

Whether we call a millionth of a bitcoin a microbit (μ฿) or simply a bit doesn’t really matter but, as the price of a single bitcoin rises, it’s clear we’ll need to do something, or only engineers will be able to order coffees.

At the moment the satoshi, the smallest subdivision of a bitcoin, is too small, but eventually I think the satoshi will become the ‘pence’ and the bit will be the ‘pound’.

…two (bit) ninety-five (satoshi), please.

Anyway, massive tangent, but all part of breadwallet’s ethos of making bitcoin more accessible to non-techie users.

Security

So far, the benefits mentioned have been superficial.  A more important difference is one that you won’t really notice in day-to-day use:

breadwallet connects directly to the bitcoin network.

With many other wallets, such as Coinbase or the most popular, blockchain.info, you go via their servers.  They keep your wallet details for you and connect to the network on your behalf.

What this means in terms of your security is that, if Coinbase or blockchain.info get hacked or go bust, you are very likely to lose access to your wallet and all your bitcoin.  This is what happened with Mt. Gox back in 2013 and with many other exchanges and services since.  There was no failure in the bitcoin network; there was a failure by a single entity to defend itself against fraudulent or malicious attack.

With breadwallet, your phone is a ‘node’ on the bitcoin network. It will try to synchronise with all the other nodes in order to verify each new transaction.  It does this via the SPV (simple payment verification) protocol, which means it’s relying on other nodes to do the heavy lifting.  If any of those nodes get hacked, seized, shutdown etc, it will simply find another one to connect to.

If breadwallet (the company) goes under, there are very limited consequences as long as you have stored your recovery phrase (a sequence of 12 random words).  The company does not hold any information about your bitcoin; it simply provides the software for you to connect to the network yourself.  Even if the app gets removed from the app store, you will be able to use your 12 word seed to restore your wallet on a totally different client (maybe with a little help from a techie friend and BIP39 converter!).

Two-factor authentication

One review I read of breadwallet criticised it for being light on security because it didn’t have two-factor authentication (2FA) like other wallets.  Actually, it does…

According to Wikipedia:

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a method of computer access control in which a user is granted access only after successfully presenting several separate pieces of evidence to an authentication mechanism – typically at least two of the following categories: knowledge (something they know), possession (something they have), and inherence (something they are).

breadwallet does 2FA with something you know (passcode) and things you have (a thumb, an iPhone with Touch ID).  As long as you don’t get mugged for your iPhone and your thumb at the same time, your bitcoin are pretty safe.

breadwallet’s 2FA is not only easier and quicker, it’s more secure than the old password-and-SMS-access-code method used by other services.

breadwallet takes advantage of the tight security of the iOS platform, not just the biometrics, but hardware-level encryption and app sandboxing, making it extremely difficult for anyone to access your data.

Spending unconfirmed transactions

We are still talking about spending small amounts here so speed and ease are important as well as security.  If you just want to settle a split bill at a restaurant with your mates, you don’t need bulletproof confirmation to do it.  If you’re selling a house, sure, you want to make sure that the transaction can’t be voided before handing over the keys, in which case it’s best practice to wait for six layers of confirmation, ie six blocks to be added to the bitcoin blockchain.

For paying a small amount to someone you know and trust you don’t really need any confirmations.  It’s like writing a cheque (remember those?) to a friend – it’s probably not going to bounce but, if it does, you know where they live!

breadwallet gives you the flexibility to choose your level of risk, depending on the situation.  You can spend bitcoin you’ve received before the incoming transaction is confirmed.  Effectively, you’re passing on the risk to whoever you’re paying and it’s up to them whether they give you the goods before the transaction has been immutably added to the bitcoin blockchain.

Buying bitcoin

On 27 March 2017 breadwallet started the roll-out of in-app purchasing of bitcoin with cash or a linked bank account through a partnership with Kraken.  Unfortunately, it’s for users in the US only.  From what I’ve read, they seem to have taken a sensible approach to making the experience seamless, without compromising the decentralised, standalone ethos of the app.

Overall, breadwallet does a good job balancing security with speed and ease of use.  It’s simple enough for the next wave of bitcoin converts, while robust enough for the techie old-timers.

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