Bitcoin wallets are an essential part of financial sovereignty. In a nutshell, they are the interface which helps us interact with the Bitcoin blockchain. And unlike their tangible real-world counterpart, they don’t actually hold money inside. Therefore, it’s fine to lose the physical device which stores the wallet (computer/phone hard drive) as long as you keep your offline backup. And even if you electronic device breaks, you’re still fine as long as you have your keys written somewhere safe.
Thanks to Bitcoin wallets, we are able to make censorship-resistant payments, back up funds in a way that’s easy to remember and write down, and boost our privacy by generating new addresses for separate payments.
Yet in recent years, Bitcoin wallets have become much more than clones of the qt/Core client. Yes, they do borrow the basic functionality from the reference client, but they simultaneously manage to offer something unique. Most of the times it’s just about ease of use and the ability to help new bitcoiners adapt to the interface and understand otherwise complicated concepts such as UTXOs and connecting to a full node. In other cases, it’s about special features such as CoinJoins and onboarding the Lightning Network.
This top 7 highlights remarkable achievements that were made in the year of 2020 with mobile and desktop Bitcoin wallets. It’s mostly a celebration of ingenuity and the ability to find ways to deliver useful features and an intuitive user experience. And even though this is about the developers, you may also regard their wallets as worthy contenders for a dedicated software-centered top 7.
Also, note that the order does not necessarily reflect the importance. We can debate all day about which developer has brought more significant contributions than the other. But instead of arguing with me, why don’t you write your own article?
7. Gaëtan Renaudeau (gre) and Arnaud97234 of Ledger
Ledger might have had a hard year due to the customer database leak, but development-wise their security had only blossomed. Previously, the Nano S and Nano X hardware wallets needed to connect to Ledger’s backend to function, so advanced users would choose wallets such as Electrum and Wasabi to minimize trust and maximize sovereignty.
But thanks to the work of Gaëtan Renaudeau and Arnaud97234, the devices’ native Ledger Live app seamlessly enables the Bitcoin full node integration. Now owners of the Nano S and Nano X can verify all transactions with their own nodes and therefore reduce their reliance on Ledger.
This might look like a small step for Ledger, but it’s definitely something significant for users everywhere. There are hundreds of thousands of people who own hardware wallets and can benefit from this addition. For more information about setting up your node with Ledger Live, consult this step by step guide.
6. Matejzak, Szymonlesisz, Keraf and Tomexx of Trezor Suite
When I wrote a lengthy comparison of hardware wallets in late 2019, I criticized Trezor for the lack of a desktop client for its wallet. Sure, the web wallet is nice and Electrum is even better. But Ledger Live and BitBoxApp are slicker and a lot more convenient.
In 2020, Trezor has finally caught up by releasing Trezor Suite: a new and ambitious desktop wallet which seeks to become the ultimate choice for your Trezor device. If everything on the roadmap gets added, then Suite will have support for a full Bitcoin node, CoinJoins, and even a password manager. Basically, if the implementation is done right, you wouldn’t really have a reason to also install Wasabi Wallet or Electrum on your computer.
But in its early months in 2020, Trezor Suite has added increased anonimity with Tor and a nice user interface. It still isn’t what it promises to be, but it’s a lot better than the web application. I look forward to the CoinJoins, UTXO control, and password manager, which are scheduled for release in March.
5. Jack Mallers of Strike by Zap
Before the world succumbed into hysteria and madness, Jack Mallers has created the perfect way to onboard nocoiners and get them directly on the Lightning Network. “I’ve got Strike downloaded and installed on my phone. I’ve got my bank connected as a payment method. I have no LND, I have no node, I have no channels, I have no Bitcoin, I have no capacity, I have no anything. All I have is Strike and my Chase bank account connected to it”, he famously said in a January 2020 video.
Mallers demonstrated how you can send bitcoin transactions without owning any bitcoins, without operating dedicated hardware, and without having any prior knowledge about how the Bitcoin network works. With Strike, he created the perfect onboarding solution which makes use of traditional finance to make censorship-resistant payments.
At the end of the video, Jack Mallers would triumphantly and defyingly thank Jamie Dimon and Chase for hating on Bitcoin and thus motivating him to work harder and create wormholes between fiat and hard internet money.
Just three months later, Mallers would announce a functional public release of the Strike wallet, which can be used to send Bitcoin payments with nothing but a bank account. It was a glorious year for Lightning Network innovations, too bad the incentives to use the second layer for all transactions aren’t aligned just yet.
4. Nuno Coelho, Igor Korsakov, and Marcos Rodriguez of BlueWallet
While everyone was expressing legitimate anger at the excessive paternalism of governments worldwide, the BlueWallet developers were hard at work adding improvements every day. Their efforts proved to be useful for Bitcoin users and even received praise from Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey a few days ago.
In 2020, BlueWallet has added support for hardware wallets, PSBT, custom entropy (rolling dices for more randomness during the seed phrase generation process), full node support, and seamless P2P trading. Furthermore, Nuno Coelho has actively worked on creating a quick and efficient multisig experience which integrates external devices such as hardware wallets.
When I invited Nuno to the podcast, he humbly replied “I don’t have anything to share really, but thank you”. This happened in April and I didn’t really understand his rationale. But now that I see what’s been going on behind the scenes, I can only appreciate the “cypherpunks write code” ethos and dedication.
BlueWallet started out as a simple custodial Lightning wallet which wasn’t much different from Wallet of Satoshi. But in one year, it blossomed to become one of the best Bitcoin mobile wallets you can use. Not only that it has all the features, but it makes use of them in a nice user interface.
3. Thomas Voegtlin, SomberNight, and EagleTM of Electrum Wallet
Electrum is the gold standard of feature-packed Bitcoin desktop wallets. Whenever a Bitcoin fork was getting released in 2017 and 2018, the first wallet client it would get was a clone of Electrum.
Nothing really changed in 2020, as Electrum only got better and kept on receiving new features. Most notably, release 4.0.1 added Lightning Network support with the ability to create and manage channels, as well as perform submarine swaps (mainchain to LN and vice versa) and operate watchtowers.
Some might say that adding Lightning was long overdue for Electrum. But when it finally happened in July 2020, it came with all the power-user features that have always made Electrum stand out from its competition. After 9 years, Electrum is still powerful, cutting-edge, and the standard for desktop wallets.
2. Nopara73, Istvan Seres, and Yuval Kogman of Wasabi Wallet
When I interviewed Nopara73 in April, he was very happy to inform me that the zkSNACKs team has welcomed a cryptographer who is just as knowledgeable as Greg Maxwell. Within months, lots of improvements have been added: Wasabi’s CoinJoin engine received significant upgrades with WabiSabi, and a “2.0” version of the wallet started to shape up.
If you take a look at the Wasabi UX right now, it isn’t much different from version 1.0. But the magic that runs in the background makes it more efficient, more private, and more stable. In collaboration with Core developer Luke Dashjr, a seamless integration with the Knots client brings significant improvements to Wasabi.
And according the cyber intelligence report that was leaked from Europol earlier this year, Wasabi is a “very effective decentralized bitcoin mixer with many privacy-focused options”, and “suspects who avoid major slip-ups have a very high probability of staying undetected”.
If this isn’t an endorsement for Wasabi, then I honestly don’t know what is. And it’s thanks to the relentless work of developers (aka “software artists”) that we have such advanced privacy.
1. The Bitcoin Core Developers
In 2020, Bitcoin Core has received three significant updates: 0.19.1, 0.20, and 0.20.1. If 0.19.1 mainly consisted of routine bug fixes, the 0.20 versions brought new features such as better hardware wallet integration (though it still requires users to type in the command line), an improved IP address mapping system which increases geographical diversification (so you have smaller odds of connecting to peers from the same country or ISP that would make your deanonymization easier), default support for SegWit addresses, and improved PSBT support.
While there is no “official” Bitcoin wallet, Core certainly is the reference client and the standard by which every other piece of software gets evaluated. Also, you can combine Core with almost all of the wallets mentioned above and get a better privacy by validating all of your own transactions and managing your own xpub. It may not sound like much, but it certainly is the best degree of sovereignty you can get with Bitcoin.
I couldn’t enumerate all the Bitcoin Core developers in the title. But I will make a list of everyone involved in this year’s three client releases. In alphabetical order, they are:
0xb10c, 251, 4d55397500, Aaron Clauson, Adam Jonas, Albert, Amiti Uttarwar, Andrew Chow, Andrew Toth, Anthony Towns, Antoine Riard, Ava Barron, Ben Carman, Ben Woosley, Block Mechanic, Brian Solon, Bushstar, Carl Dong, Carnhof Daki, Cory Fields, Daki Carnhof, Dan Gershony, Daniel Kraft, dannmat, Danny-Scott, darosior, David O’Callaghan, Dominik Spicher, Elichai Turkel, Emil Engler, emu, Fabian Jahr, fanquake, Filip Gospodinov, Franck Royer, Gastón I. Silva, gchuf, Gleb Naumenko, Gloria Zhao, glowang, Gr0kchain, Gregory Sanders, hackerrdave, Harris, hel0, Hennadii Stepanov, ianliu, Igor Cota, James Chiang, James O’Beirne, Jan Beich, Jan Sarenik, Jeffrey Czyz, Jeremy Rubin, JeremyCrookshank, Jim Posen, João Barbosa, John Bampton, John L. Jegutanis, John Newbery, Jon Atack, Jon Layton, Jonas Schnelli, João Barbosa, Jorge Timón, Karl-Johan Alm, kodslav, Larry Ruane, Luke Dashjr, malevolent, MapleLaker, marcaiaf, MarcoFalke, Marius Kjærstad, Mark Erhardt, Mark Tyneway, Martin Erlandsson, Martin Zumsande, Matt Corallo, Matt Ward, Michael Chrostowski, Michael Folkson, Michael Polzer, Micky Yun Chan, MIZUTA Takeshi, Neha Narula, nijynot, naumenkogs, NullFunctor, Peter Bushnell, pierrenn, Pieter Wuille, practicalswift, randymcmillan, Rjected, Russell Yanofsky, sachinkm77, Samer Afach, Samuel Dobson, Sanjay K, Sebastian Falbesoner, Sebastian Falbesoner, Sjors Provoost, Stefan Richter, stefanwouldgo, Steven Roose, Suhas Daftuar, Suriyaa Sundararuban, TheCharlatan, Tim Akinbo, Travin Keith, tryphe, Vasil Dimov, Willy Ko, Wilson Ccasihue S, Wladimir J. van der Laan, Yahia Chiheb, Yancy Ribbens, Yusuf Sahin HAMZA, Zakk, and Zero.
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