September 9, 2019
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?”
PS Care about business and sustainability? Fortune’s latest weekly newsletter The Loop has you covered. Check out the inaugural edition and sign up here.
Jeff John Roberts | @jeffjohnroberts | firstname.lastname@example.org