Apple has the Incentives, Values, & Tech to Bring Blockchain Mainstream

Here's a thought experiment: imagine Apple buying Brave, the privacy-focused browser company that uses a cryptocurrency to compensate content creators.

Apple could integrate the Basic Attention Token (BAT) into Safari and give every user with an iCloud subscription a few tokens a month to be distributed to the sites they browse. The iPhone's secure element could store your wallet's private key such that not even Apple could access your tokens.

Apple could market the tech as ushering in a new age of sustainable journalism and content creation, one aligned with user privacy and with democratic values. The move would also be a blow to some of their biggest competitors. As a nice cherry on top, the acquisition itself would likely cost nothing; the value of BAT tokens held by Brave would skyrocket with the deal's announcement.

This isn't a prediction, it's just a thought experiment. The point is that the story at least sounds plausible. You could imagine it happening, even while acknowledging it's very unlikely it will.

Now imagine Google buying Brave. Would they integrate it into Chrome? Of course not! Doing so would kill their ridiculously lucrative ad network. Would they let you control your keys? Of course not! To Google, all computing belongs in the cloud (i.e. on their servers) and a Google account should mediate your identity on the web. Google is completely misaligned with Brave's ethos.

Privacy as a Strategy Credit

Of all the major tech companies, Apple seems to take user privacy the most seriously. This was on display at their World Wide Developer's Conference last week. They announced, for example, that Safari will get numerous features aimed at thwarting efforts to track you across the web.

Apple markets these changes as great for users, without compromising their business, and weakens their competitors at the same time. Apple, after all, just wants to sell you more devices. Personal data, while the lifeblood of companies like Google and Facebook, isn't particularly valuable to them. Several years back, Ben Thompson coined the term "Strategy Credit" to describe the situation.

It would be overly cynical, though, to say Apple only adds these features because of financial incentives. I believe Apple, and Tim Cook, truly do value users' privacy. It was Apple, after all, that went toe-to-toe with the FBI rather than backdoor a terroist's phone. Just today, it was announced that Apple would close another security hole used by law enforcement to crack iPhones.

That Apple's values surrounding privacy also square with Apple's business model should be seen as a powerful alignment, one that could drive real change in the industry given the company's incredible leverage.

Towards A Decentralized Future

This, then, is the most compelling reason to believe Apple could be the first major tech company to embrace blockchain technology: they are best aligned with the vision of a decentralized future it promises.

Google and Facebook, on the other hand, are completely misaligned. The very premise of each business is to provide centralized services. A decentralized future, one that gave even minimal control back to users, could weaken or destroy them.

It's not at all surprising that Apple has yet to wade into the Wild West that is crypto. They rarely adopt bleeding edge technology. Still, Apple's values, incentives, and tech stack align well with a decentralized future. Historically, they have a knack for knowing when an emerging tech is on the cusp of adoptability. If and when Apple makes a move to embrace blockchain technology, pay attention!