Bitcoin lightning network is surely revolutionary. However, the innovation is not yet user-ready since there are many pending solutions and features still under development.
Lighting network is a method where transactions are made on off-chain channels and therefore users on the receiving end can receive the payments or cryptocurrencies without having to wait for mining of a block on the main chain and also by avoiding associating miner’s fees.
Lightning network has immense potential, from facilitating quick transactions, reducing cost of transactions to facilitating swaps between different blockchains. Just recently, Igor Cota announced they are working on Presto, a solution that would enable near-field communication (NFC) – to allow users to make contactless payments where they initiate payments by tapping their devices to payment terminals.
However, there are a number of hurdles that the innovation will need to overcome before lightning network become a reality. For instance, there is still no ready lightning network application for use every day by people. This is because there are a number of challenges and features still under development.
The Hebrew University assistant professor Aviv Zohar, said:
“Lightning has a ton of challenges ahead of it. I don’t want to be too negative. It’s amazing stuff”.
He says that there’s this huge gap between what’s doable and what’s usable: the usability challenge. He adds that there are certain user experiences that do not have solutions — or adequate solutions yet.
Lightning Labs, the company behind implementation of lnd lightning network (now in beta and ready for mainnet use) even publishes a blog post envisioning how lightning network could be in use by end users without any tech skills to buy end-user products such as a pair of socks or pizza as if the end user was swiping a credit card. The company, however, recently tweeted “we recommend that users experiment with only small amounts (#craefulgang #craefulgang #craefulgang)!” Additionally, the company is yet to release the mobile version in order to minimize the risk for users. The desktop app is still restricted to “testnet” – that is, fake money.
CoinClip and HTLC.me, which are testnet lnd apps for iOS and supporting lightning features, are not yet releases to minimize risk for users. The developer behind Zap Jack Mallers told CoinDesk that lightning network will soon be good enough for more non-technical users.
“One day it will be good enough for exchanges, one day it will be good enough for Amazon.”
He says people uses to “roadmaps of products” but lightning is “a protocol and not a product so there’s not a ship date”.
ACINQ is running the “eclair” lightning implementation and unveiled an Android wallet app in the beginning of April, which supports mainnet lightning payments. However, the app cannot receive payments yet.
There are many tech features that are not yet released for lightning network to function fully. One of those is “watchtowers”. It seeks to deal with the problem where its is possible for a user of a channel to steal another user’s funds. If the victim logs on before the given amount of time passes and notices that the amount was to be stolen, they can punish the would-be thief by pushing their funds in the channel. Watchtowers watches the network and will punish the would-be thief in the network in exchange for a small fee.
Although “watchtower” cab may improve the situation to have users monitor the channel when they create a channel. Thus need a certain number of confirmations to make sure it is accepting. It will take time to be built into a sleek UX. Despite much time taken, user experience is daunting, and that might continue because only a few people are working on the UX for cryptocurrency protocols and technologies.
“Splicing” is another mechanism that allows a user who wants to send more Bitcoin than available. Thus it is to being in additional funds into the channel and make the payment. The method will also allow Bitcoin users without a lightning node to receive lightning-based payments.
Another feature is “submarine swaps” under development by Bosworth. It is a version of atomic swap where one side of swap is done on-chain and the other off-chain. It could help swaps between Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, for instance. The funds a locked on a smart contract. “Submarine swaps” could be helpful on decentralized crypto exchanges, for instance where one user cannot take another user’s altcoins without giving the Bitcoin in exchange.