It seems doubly strange, then, that an unofficial app bearing the Coinbase name and branding would not only make it into the iTunes app store, but also receive the nod of approval from Coinbase itself. Yet, that’s exactly what has happened.
Great to see this community contributed app! We reached out to the dev to review the code and believe it is secure. https://t.co/hPZVSr7GOI
— Coinbase (@coinbase) June 20, 2014
Not surprisingly, many in the bitcoin community rushed to call the move “extremely poor judgment” on Coinbase’s part. The critics claim that giving API access to an app is understandable, but it is beyond foolish to let a third-party developer have such unrestricted access to the company’s name, logo, branding and other intellectual property. If a theory by well-known bitcoin industry observer Ryan Selkis proves true, however, the reality might be that the “third-party developer” is actually very close to Coinbase itself.
According to Selkis’ Two-Bit Idiot blog post, the app’s developer, Andrew Vilcsak, is a long-time collaborator with Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong. The two worked closely together at Airbnb, for whom Vilcsak also built an award-winning iOS app. As a small-scale developer with an established track record, Vilcsak may have been able to get his app through Apple’s process much faster than Coinbase coming in cold. But that’s not the kicker.
All of that said, here’s my unsubstantiated theory: Armstrong and Vilcsak are tight and I’ll bet you a bitcoin he joins Coinbase full-time in the coming months. This might have even been negotiated already, so that Coinbase is ready to “acquire” any IP he has built related to the new app. Coinbase can test out an open-source API without really taking a big gamble. It projects the image to Apple that it isn’t touching this independent developer’s API to circumvent some legal hoops. In weeks, Coinbase gets to make a nice big announcement that they have this new sexy hire from Airbnb’s mobile engineering team.
If true, Coinbase’s move certainly makes some sense. They may not be able to officially claim the app as theirs at the moment, but could have plans to buy it at a later point.