A new internet is being built. One where you have control over your own money, data and identity. And the way to enter the Matrix—I mean, Web3—will be through browser wallets like MetaMask and Coinbase Wallet.
The problem is, Web3 is still being built. Dapps are in their early stages—with UX challenges and low-user numbers. As a result, the blockchain app revolution has stalled a tad. But, companies are ploughing ahead anyway--jostling to become the de facto entry into Web3. One such company is Coinbase, and in this review we examine if its Wallet is helping or hindering the next generation of dapp browsers.
What is Coinbase Wallet?
Coinbase Wallet—previously called Toshi—is a mobile wallet for storing Ethereum, and Ethereum-based tokens, which has just added support for Bitcoin. It is separate from the native wallet in the Coinbase app, making it the other Coinbase wallet. It also features in-app dapp browser, more on that later.
Setting up the wallet is fairly easy. It creates your Ethereum wallet in just a few seconds, all you need to do is choose a unique username. This simplicity is one of the most exciting elements of the app. Rather than sending ETH to a complicated Ethereum address, like you do with all Ethereum wallets, you will be able to enter in someone else’s username and send to that instead. However, this feature will only work within the app as it’s not built into the Ethereum network. Unfortunately, this feature is not yet ready—unless it’s hidden somewhere I can’t find.
Once the wallet is set up, the user interface is classic Coinbase: simple, and easy to use. I’m a big fan as it makes the cluttered crypto world feel like something your gran could use. On the homepage, I can see what coins I have in the app, and I can click to see what crypto collectibles I own. Making and receiving payments is also as straightforward as it is using Coinbase’s website. The brilliant thing is that there are very few other features to get distracted by—you send money, you receive money, that’s about it. But when it comes to the dapp browser, that’s where things start to get messy.
Diving into the dapp browser
The dapp browser is similar to any normal browser, with a search bar at the top, back and forward buttons, and a home button. On the homepage, Coinbase displays a list of the most popular dapps to make it easy to dive in. The only thing missing on this page is a search bar to find a specific dapp. When you click on a dapp, a simple description appears, and a follow-up click takes you to the website.
With regular apps, that experience would lead to an app being installed on your device. But in dapp land, you’re directed to a mobile web version of the dapp, inside the wallet browser. That meant most of the space was taken up by the chunky nav bar at the bottom of the screen, leaving a pitiful amount of space for the app itself. Plus, not all dapps are mobile-friendly, making it feel like you’re surfing the web in 1997.
I start trying different dapps, only to get hit by roadblock after roadblock. Token exchange Paradex didn’t load. Buying a free Etheremon (think blockchain Pokemon) didn’t work. MLB Crypto Baseball—which sells crypto collectible baseball players—just gave me a revolving baseball. It was quite frustrating—albeit nothing to do with the Coinbase Wallet app itself.
When I finally stumbled across a dapp that did work—commercial social network Cent—things felt a little easier. I just had to sign in and it was set up. But when I tried tipping another user within the app, it didn’t work. Then I realised, it wasn’t ready—I had to setup a wallet that worked inside the network, something the dapp’s design didn’t make very clear. When I finally found my account, I had to connect it to my Ethereum wallet—which is important for security—but frustrating as it’s step-after-step-after-step to do the simplest of things. I clicked “agree” to sign it, and nothing happened. I was left pressing the “setup” button again and again to no avail. This might be because it’s waiting for an Ethereum transaction to go through—if that’s how it works on the backend—or it’s just frozen. Either way, it doesn’t tell me what’s going on and there appears to be no way to progress. I give up.
For my final attempt, I try CryptoKitties, one of the most popular dapps which lets you buy and sell virtual cats. I sign up and sign the transaction. This time there is a useful prompt that lets me know the signing in process is taking a while. It advises me to check MetaMask—a totally different app. Nothing happens.
It’s hard to fault Coinbase Wallet. When it comes to sending and receiving currency, it does its job very well. But when it comes to being the on-ramp into the dapp world, it fails to bring the same simplicity. As long as the dapp experience stays like this, the wallet will be very frustrating to use. Once dapp developers can get their act together—and start to understand the importance of UX—Coinbase Wallet will be a good entry point. But for now, it’s ahead of its time.