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Apple’s Crypto Tease —The Ledger

Apple CEO Tim CookApple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Jennifer Bailey, the VP of Apple Pay, last week disclosed that her company is "watching cryptocurrency" and "think[s] it has interesting long-term potential." Does this mean we can expect a big crypto announcement at tomorrow's iPhone 11 event?

Don't hold your breath. Even though Apple loves to drop surprises during its September marketing spectacle, it's a safe bet the arrival of an Apple Coin won't be one of them. Despite Bailey's comments, the company under CEO Tim Cook has been all about incremental improvements, so don't expect him to announce a visionary crypto gambit along the lines of Facebook's Project Libra.

When it comes to payments, the most innovation Apple has been able to muster of late is a new credit card. The card is pretty and offers some nifty rewards when you use it via the iPhone but, in the end, it's still just a credit card—one that might excite Apple fanboys but that will do nothing to shake up the broader world of finance.

If you want further evidence of Apple's lack of crypto ambitions, you can also look at its hiring history. A search of LinkedIn reveals dozens of Facebook and Amazon employees with "blockchain" or "crypto" in their titles, while Apple doesn't have anyone with those titles. It's possible, of course, that Apple is cooking up a big crypto project on the sly. But the more likely explanation of Bailey's "we're watching cryptocurrency" comment is what it sounds like—that Apple has decided to be no more than a spectator in the emerging crypto industry.

This is a shame. As I've written before, Apple is best poised among the tech giants to launch a cryptocurrency. Unlike Twitter, whose CEO has conceded he'll be sticking to Bitcoin, Apple has the engineering chops and a critical mass of customers for an Apple Coin to catch on. The company also has a good reputation when it comes to privacy, meaning it wouldn't face the sort of regulatory headaches that Facebook is (rightfully) confronting over Libra.

Alas, what Apple lacks is the ambition to launch a new blockchain-based form of global money—even if it did once. It's inconceivable the company's late founder Steve Jobs would have ceded the future of a new technology like crypto to a rival. But the Jobs era is long gone. So instead of competing with Facebook over Libra, Tim Cook will use tomorrow's Apple event to merrily trot out some improvements to the iPhone camera or maybe launch a new watch. For anyone watching the event, be sure to ask yourself "Why aren't they building an Apple Coin instead?"

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Jeff John Roberts | @jeffjohnroberts | [email protected]

THE LEDGER’S LATEST

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DECENTRALIZED NEWS

 To the Moon… Baakt’s Bitcoin custody warehouse is open for business.  Stripe is the latest to offer instant loans. Facebook hires more Libra lobbyists. China’s national bank is hatching its cryptocurrency in a super-secret office. Evan Financial raises $25 million for its API for financial services. A mysterious $1 billion Bitcoin transfer. Binance U.S. will arrive in “coming weeks.” Blockchain is raising a $50 million crypto investment fund. Preston “Marmot Man” Byrne launches a weekly crypto-legal newsletter

Rekt… Charles Schwab is meh on crypto.   Coinbase and Ripple dropped from cool startups lists. There’s “work left to be done” before a Bitcoin ETF says SEC Chair. Crook swipes $15,000 in crypto is arrested after emailing apology to police. Unlike Bitcoin, bank transfers are reversible—unless you spend it all first

BALANCING THE LEDGER

How do millennials invest?  The Ledger decided to pose this question to finance and tech executives at companies like Brext and Silicon Valley. The interviews, which include crypto figures like Barry Silbert and Adam White, show how this generation has a very distinct investment thesis from previous ones. View the interview here.

BUBBLE-O-METER

56%

That’s the proportion of the world’s 50 universities offering at least one course on cryptocurrency or blockchain—up from 42% in 2018. While many company “research reports” are just glorified marketing documents, Coinbase’s overview of crypto-eduction is worth a look. Also, take a bow, Cornell, for offering the most crypto courses, followed by MIT and NYU.

MEMES AND MUMBLES

“Most crime is done with Benjamins, not the blockchain
There’s a reason most dollars carry traces of cocaine” — Satoshi

That’s just one of several gem lyrics by the Bitcoin creator in his viral rap battle with Alexander Hamilton. The Founding Father has several top notch retorts in the battle, which was produced by LinkedIn founder and Greylock partner Reed Hoffman.

FOMO NO MO’

A new type of airdrop: Robert reports on an interesting tie-up between Stellar and secure-messaging service Keybase. Rather than air-dropping $120 million worth of Lumens to exchange wallets, Stellar is using Keybase as a distributor: 

Max Krohn, CEO and cofounder of Keybase, tells Fortune that his firm’s airdrop differs from those previous ones because it takes place on a chat app rather than a cryptocurrency exchange where people might be encouraged to cash out immediately. Instead, Krohn hopes people will transact with the cryptocurrency in-app, sending it to contacts and paying for various services offered by chat bots.

“We hope to see everything from basic payment back for lunch to new things we haven’t even thought about,” Krohn says.