Since the first public blockchain appeared to allow bitcoin transactions, the blockchain technology has been making great strides towards optimization of business processes across a wide spectrum of industries.
With all the hype surrounding the technology, we receive a lot of questions from our partners, eager to leverage its potential. The most frequent question is:
How will blockchain influence our mobile strategy and mobile app development in particular?
In this blog post, we look at some of the advantages and shortcomings of applying the blockchain technology in the mobile space.
What is Blockchain?
To recap, blockchain is a distributed digital ledger where data automatically replicates among independent nodes. All nodes equally take part in a so-called consensus — verification process that takes place on each node individually before a new block of data is added to the chain.
“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
— Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016)
It’s this lack of central authority that makes blockchain so lucrative: in situations when there is no trust between parties, a blockchain becomes the ideal solution for storing an uncompromised secure log of all transactions that are transparent and verifiable by all participants.
Pros and Cons of Blockchain in Mobile
A recent blockchain survey by Deloitte fielded across seven countries has revealed that half of the respondents (1000+ companies) plan to invest between one and ten million dollars in blockchain solutions next year.
Let’s take a look at the advantages of this eruptive technology that companies investing into blockchain are staking on.
As we’ve already covered, a blockchain is a distributed ledger. What this means is that for its operation a blockchain relies on multiple independent nodes and does not need a trusted authority or central server. Transactions are controlled by nodes, with no middlemen required.
As the outcome businesses gain:
- Higher profit margin,
- Lower operational costs,
- Quicker transactions.
Will it stand the test though, if we look at the distributed nature of blockchain thru the prism of mobile? A 100% blockchain-based mobile solution would effectively turn a smartphone or a tablet into a node, with quite obvious downside effects.
Blockchain vs. Mobile Storage
Mobile devices have natural constraints on how much data they can store. A mobile app that runs off of a blockchain can quickly eat up all free space on a smartphone or tablet.
The bigger the chain, the more room it will require on a mobile device: as of June 2018 the size of the Bitcoin blockchain has gone over 170 gigabytes. You do the math.
Blockchain vs. Mobile Performance
While it’s true that modern smartphones can compare to mid-range PCs that constitute the majority of nodes on a typical blockchain, we have to admit that the bulk of mobile devices on the market do not have enough power to support adequate functioning of a blockchain.
On top of that, battery capacity would introduce another bottleneck, as constant connectivity and processing operations would eat up a smartphone’s energy in no time.
Secure & Immutable
Each block of data that gets onto a blockchain is verified by all nodes participating in the blockchain. A timestamp and encryption of each new piece of data make the blockchain database immune to hacks.
Surely, data immutability could find its use in mobile solutions, but prolonged verification of transactions would render the whole shenanigans pointless. Besides, many models of smartphones offer biometric authentication nowadays — already self-sufficient security measure.
So… No Blockchain in Mobile?
Not quite. Blockchain can still find its way into the mobile world. Just look at all the mobile wallet apps out there. A digital wallet app is an ideal solution for managing cryptocurrency transactions.
We just need to realize that a mobile wallet is not a blockchain-based mobile solution. In fact, such wallet only integrates with a blockchain, that in turn runs off of desktop PCs, as one would expect.
You’d be surprised to learn that most mobile apps work this way. It’s the server that churns numbers and algorithms. In most cases, mobile apps only fetch data from a server and let you interact with this data.
Uber is an excellent case to exemplify: it’s not an app that calculates the cost of a ride, but the server; and it’s not the app that calculates the optimal route — Apple and Google have huge back-end infrastructure behind their mapping services that feed this data to Uber app.
The point we are trying to make here is that the blockchain technology does not change the mobile app development principles in a meaningful way, other than offering another point of integration. A mobile app can integrate with a blockchain and serve as a mobile interface into the blockchain.
The difference with a desktop node is that a smartphone or a tablet equipped with a blockchain-integrated app do not contribute to the operation of the blockchain: it does not store or verify blockchain data. Instead, an app can display the data that the blockchain offers via an API.
Future of Blockchain-Integrated Mobile Apps
Even though at present there is no clear case in favor of developing a mobile-first blockchain system, mobile solutions may add value to blockchain-powered systems by offering the convenience of a mobile interface.
Some of the most interesting use cases for integrating mobile apps with blockchain-based solutions include:
- Mobile wallets for managing cryptocurrency transactions;
- Digital identity for services such as new bank accounts, driver’s license, or utilities;
- Documenting land titles and land rights;
- Mobile gambling;
- Cryptocurrency trading apps, etc.
Do you plan to develop a blockchain distributed app accompanied by a mobile client or want to assess the potential benefits of integrating a mobile app with a blockchain? Let us know and we will run an audit to help you identify the bottlenecks and opportunities for realizing a project on the edge of mobile and blockchain.