Why You Are All Wrong

At TwentyTwo we always strive to offer the best user experience for our customers: for this reason a significant part of our iterative process is listening to our users’ feedback and re-evaluate our choices. We’ve been gathering a lot of feedback after announcing our new hardware wallet, Portal, at Bitcoin Atlantis, and in this post we will go over some of the recurring criticism we received.

As they say, the customer is always right. Except sometimes they are not!

Jokes aside, in this provocative post we hope to clairfy some doubts people tend to have about Portal, hoping to provide a better understanding of the strenghts and pitfalls of this device. So let’s get straight into it!

Why is it so BIG?

This is one of the main questions people ask when getting their hands on Portal for the first time. It’s a legit question, but we believe it comes from a lack of understanding of what the device is and what problem it’s trying to solve.

In terms of the engineering of the device, it would be trivial for us to shrink it down without removing/changing any of the components. We could easily squeeze the whole device in not more than a square inch of fiber glass, copper and plastic. But if we did that, it would become useless!

You see, Portal works in a bit of a different way compared to more traditional hardware wallets. We believe we’ve managed to create a very unique and new user experience, but it takes a while to get used to it.

Portal is a hardware wallet designed specifically to be used with mobile wallet apps on smartphones. It lets people self custody their funds safely by storing the private keys on an isolated device, all without leaving the convenience of using a mobile app on a modern phone.

To safely achieve this, Portal uses a small display to show the user all the details of the transaction they are creating: the user is required to confirm each output address and amount, and also the amount of fees being paid by the transaction to ensure the wallet isn’t being drained by an attacker.

But in order to perform this check, the user needs to be able to see the display of Portal while holding it up against the back of their phone, so that the device stays powered on and can keep communicating with the smartphone.

This is the reason why the device has such a unique shape: it’s designed so that the round part (which contains the NFC antenna) can be comfortably held against your phone, while the display and button area sticks out the side so that the user can easily look at the display and press the button. If we were to shrink it down to, for example, credit card size, only a small part of the display would be visibile, especially on the larger and larger smartphones people are using today.

And this would make Portal much less effective and pleasant to use.

But but but… it’s NOT PORTABLE!

Sure, but it doesn’t have to be! Of course if Portal was smaller and thinner and stronger you would be able to carry it easily in your wallet. But why would you do that?

As Lightning takes over the world, more and more in-person payments will also move to that second layer. It’s a no-brainer to use Lightning for everyday payments, where speed and transaction cost are very important. We are also experiencing this first-hand ourselves as the vast majority of orders paid in Bitcoin on our store have happened over Lightning Network.

So why should Portal, an on-chain hardware wallet, be portable? If anything we should discourage portability. People shouldn’t be walking around with the keys for all their life savings, no matter how strong of an encryption key they have on their devices. Remember that 5$ wrenches exist and are readily availalbe to criminals.

And yes, I’m sure you can come up with some edge cases for why somebody may want to walk around with such a hardware wallet, like fleeing from a war or smuggling money through customs. But the vast majority of users will never need that, and if they were to need it we would advise against brining any hardware wallet, no matter the size, with them. There are better, more private ways out there.

We believe this misconception comes from the fact that Portal is “mobile-native”. People naturally see smartphones as mostly portable devices. And while that’s definitely true, people also use their smartphones within the comfort of their homes or offices. Heck, people nowadays may easily be spending more time looking at their smartphones at home rather than outside. And the reason they do that is that it’s just so much more convenient! It’s much easier to pull your phone out and check Instagram quickly, or watch a YouTube video, rather than sitting at a desk, powering on your laptop, and so on.

And this is exactly why we are making Portal: it’s not a portable device, but it’s designed so that you can very quickly use it just with a smartphone. You don’t need cables, you don’t need to recharge any batteries: Portal is always ready. When that time comes that you have to make an on-chain transaction, you can just take it from your desk drawer, tap it to your phone and be done with it!

Disagree with us?

Please insult us on Twitter.

Onto the next one! 🫡