Why Apple Pay may be the gateway drug bitcoin needs

When Apple released Apple Pay to the masses, it became a “moment.” Social media was flooded with photos and tweets of people tapping their phones to pay for their prescriptions at Walgreens or buying a Big Mac at McDonalds. News stations dispatched reporters to watch customers tap, tap, tap their phones to buy goods.

Bitcoin has not had its “ah-ha” or “where were you when you first spent bitcoin” moment yet — at least not on a mainstream consumer level. But if Apple Pay makes users more comfortable with digital transactions, that is a great thing for bitcoin, said Sean Percival, venture partner at 500 Startups, on a panel at the Future of Money and Technology Summit in San Francisco.

While Percival acknowledged that Apple is likely to never use bitcoin, Apple Pay is serving as an introduction for the average consumer to the idea of paying with a phone and digital dollars instead of cash or cards. Also on the panel, Dogecoin founder Jackson Palmer pointed to the rise of mobile payments that are taking off among the younger generation: Square, Venmo and Snapchat’s Snapcash.

“It’s about changing the mindset,” Palmer said. “The older generation is still attached to cash.”

Part of bitcoin’s adoption problem is the lack of education of the mainstream consumer. If mobile payment applications take off, it would be a more seamless transition to introducing the population to a paper-less, digital currency like bitcoin.

However, as panel moderator Mark Rogowsky of Forbes pointed out, why would users swap their dollars for Satoshis if they are paying by tapping their phone regardless?

Well, one day they may not have to. Percival argued that consumers should be using bitcoin without realizing they are doing it. Most consumers don’t understand the technology that is transferring the USD in their iPhone to the Walgreens, so if that was replaced with bitcoin’s blockchain technology, one may not notice. It likely won’t happen with Apple Pay itself, but with a generation of “tap to pay” users, the next big app could be the mainstream boon bitcoin desperately needs.