21 Inc recently announced a funding round that was done in secret over the past year and resulted in them pulling in the largest venture capitalist investment round into the digital currency space’s history sitting at over (USD $118M). But we still don’t know what, exactly, it is that they do. Recent job postings seem to hint at combining Bitcoin with another emerging technology.
We know that they are secretive and that they plan to announce something in the coming “weeks or months” that will, according to Marc Andreessen, focus on “mainstreaming bitcoin” and that it would include both hardware and software innovations.
Other than that one cryptic hint, printed in the Wall Street Journal, we don’t have much to go on. But this is the internet, and what would the internet be without wild speculation fueled by massive assumptions and only the flimsiest bits of actual evidence? Certainly, such an internet wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining for any of us.
This article is not meant to be taken as gospel, or even a good bet. I don’t have any inside information or leak inside 21 Inc, this is simply an attempt to connect the few dots of public information we do have, in order to see if we can start to make out the picture.
Not long ago, 21 Inc posted some job listings, far from being definitive, job postings can be a good road sign for people wishing to speculate on a company’s future direction. The first listing that really pops out is for an “ASIC Design Engineer”. Some have speculated that 21 Inc funded in secret so that it could burst onto the mining scene in a big way. It should be pointed out that ASICs does not necessarily mean bitcoin mining ASICs and it should not be assumed that they are making ASIC miners, especially when you consider another job posting.
21 Inc is looking for a “System Software Engineer” but it isn’t the title that is important, it is how they describe it. The future software engineer will apparently be working on machines both large and small, from the job description page:
“[successful candidates will be be expected to] Implement and maintain systems software that targets everything from tiny embedded devices to massive datacenters[.]”
Tiny embedded devices to massive datacenters seems to give credence to the theory, also written about in the Wall Street Journal, that 21 Inc will be focused on Internet of Things (IoT) concepts and integrating that with bitcoin in some way. Reportedly, chip set designer Qualcomm is one of the large investors behind 21 Inc. Qualcomm has been making a large push for the growing IoT market, they even have started to push their own moniker, the Internet of Everything.
ASICs, as Miningpool readers are sure to know, simply stand for Application Specific Integrated Circuits. While the term may be synonymous with cryptocurrency miners within the bitcoin community, that is not the case in the general technology community and ASICs can refer to almost anything designed with a specific purpose in mind. Under some definitions, even Qualcomm’s System on Chips (SoC) could be considered ASICs. The ASIC design engineer posting states that successful candidates will “[Work] with cutting-edge process technologies (sub-32 nm)” which would be suitable for both cutting edge miners and networked small devices.
They also have job postings for Android and iOS developers, suggesting that whatever they are creating, mobile devices figure to play a large role in it. Each job listing has an About Us blurb that gives one final hint, it reads in part
There are a lot of barriers that stand in the way of mainstream bitcoin adoption, just as bandwidth, accessibility and organization were just a few of the barriers standing in the way of mainstream internet adoption in the 1990s. Those issues were solved with both hardware and software solutions.
What kind of hardware could grow bitcoin adoption? An affordable and wireless POS device that integrates with current cashier hardware is an obvious first guess, but the secrecy behind everything seems to suggest they have more in store for us than just that.
When 21 Inc announced their funding round, they suggested that we would know more in the coming “weeks or months.” It has been nearly a month since that time, presumably we will find out what they are really planning shortly, and wild speculation will no longer be needed.