Airbitz Enables BLE-driven Wireless Payments for iPhone and Android

If you’ve ever used bitcoin currency, you know that it can be frustrating to try to send and receive money when QR codes aren’t cooperating.

Solar reflection, phones with cracked screens, and poorly focusing cameras are among the issues that are hampering widespread use of QR codes and impeding Bitcoin adoption.

Developers at Airbitz, a Bitcoin wallet and business directory, have found a solution.

In October of 2014, Airbitz unveiled technology that allowed for iPhone users in close proximity to pay each other wirelessly via Bluetooth technology on their app– all without the need to pair iPhones. No more QR codes.

This is made possible by Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

When compared to Classic Bluetooth, the newer BLE uses less power and lowers costs while providing a similar communication range.

But not everyone uses iPhones.

The latest android software update (Android 5.0), however, has BLE capabilities. As a result, Airbitz has recently launched wireless Bitcoin payments for Android. The Airbitz protocol is compatible between iPhone and Android devices.

The idea for wireless Bitcoin payments emerged out of dissatisfaction with the QR code method of transacting with Bitcoin.

Paul Puey, CEO of Airbitz, explained:

“The idea came about after many frustrating experiences with QR codes, and the realization that most people are not familiar with them and their scary appearance. The advance of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which can work without pairing, gave us the motivation to develop this feature and protocol.”

“Android was far more difficult to implement than iPhone,” adds Paul. “Our usage of BLE requires a mode called Peripheral Mode, which allows a device to behave like a beacon, broadcasting info to receiving devices. iPhone has had this capability since the iPhone 4S, allowing it to both broadcast and receive BLE payment requests. Android only introduced this Bluetooth feature (Peripheral Mode) as of version 5.0 (Android Lollipop). We developed the early beta versions of 5.0 with the expectation that old devices would support this feature. Before release, at the last minute, Google disabled Peripheral Mode for all devices except Nexus 6 & 9. Although a bit crippled by Google, the Airbitz wallet allows full send and receive via Bluetooth on Nexus 6 & 9, but only sending capabilities on most Android 4.3 devices and higher.”

Ultimately, this initiative is a move toward making Bitcoin user-friendly, something that the cryptocurrency will need if it hopes to thrive.

“Our focus,” concludes Paul, ” is to deliver software with an amazing user experience, both visually and functionally, simplifying this advanced technology and delivering it to the masses while still retaining Bitcoin’s core principles of decentralization and privacy.”

This important innovation can potentially make the process of adopting Bitcoin less like pulling out molars, and more like learning how to tweet.

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