Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, or BSC: Ranking the top blockchains for web3 mobile developers (January 2023 version)

Published January 17, 2023

Compare Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, and BSC for web3 mobile developers
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Long Tran

Co-founder & CEO

Web3 and NFTs have the power to disrupt the mobile app landscape, unlock new revenue streams for app developers, and create powerful value for creators and users. As Apple begins to warm up to NFTs, a new wave of web3-powered apps is just behind the corner. Especially with the recent slowdown in the mobile app revenue and ongoing macroeconomic challenges, monetizing via NFT features can be the make-or-break decision for your iOS and Android apps. Mobile developers who pioneer web3 at this point in time have an incredible opportunity to survive the downturn and thrive in the long run.

But, building on web3 is hard, and developers have to navigate a maze of arcane technical concepts and ambiguous choices. Among those, a key decision is: Which blockchain should mobile developers build on? There are five criteria to answer this question: 1) adoption, 2) scalability, 3) development difficulty, 4) security, and 5) decentralization. This article will break down the pros and cons of Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, BNB Smart Chain. We argue that Polygon and Ethereum are the best choices for iOS and Android developers, while the rest are worth keeping an eye on.

What makes a blockchain good for mobile development?

Despite the revolutionary potential of web3 for iOS and Android development, web3 mobile suffers from 3 key problems: a) restrictive app store policies, b) awkward mobile UX, and c) lacking adoption. While the majority of Internet users are using mobile, most mobile developers and mobile users do not have an in-depth understanding of crypto. To succeed on mobile, a blockchain ecosystem needs to provide a seamless experience for developers and end users, abstract away technical complexities, and focus on the value that web3 provides. This translates to a set of five criteria that are critical for mobile development: 1) adoption, 2) scalability, 3) development difficulty, 4) security, and 5) decentralization.

We explain each criterion as follows:

  1. Adoption: By adoption, we consider both developer adoption and user adoption. On one hand, a blockchain ecosystem must have a strong and active developer community that can iterate and improve on the engineering architecture, share best practices, and support each other. On the other hand, strong user adoption helps developers avoid the painful task of educating and onboarding users onto a new blockchain (e.g. creating new wallets). Finally, strong developer and user adoption indicates a wealth of applications and use cases already present in the blockchain ecosystem for developers to learn from.
  2. Scalability: The importance of UX in mobile applications means that high transaction speed (i.e. number of transactions per second) and low gas fees are crucial considerations for mobile developers. Given that web3 mobile aims to target the mass of mobile users, a blockchain network needs to be able to handle a large number of transactions with affordable costs.
  3. Development difficulty: Let’s face it: No mobile developer wants to commit a huge chunk of time learning crypto - and you shouldn’t have to. A successful blockchain is one that stays out of the way and lets mobile developers focus on serving their customers, iterating towards product market fit, and monetizing their apps. This criterion, therefore, favors blockchain ecosystems that i) make it easy for mobile developers to write and deploy smart contracts, ii) have good web3 mobile integration libraries, and iii) possess strong web3 backend tools.
  4. Security: Security is always top of mind for crypto users, and web3 mobile is not an exception. A good blockchain needs to be resistant to malicious attacks and ensures that transactions cannot be tampered with.
  5. Decentralization: Finally, the core ethos of crypto is decentralization. An open and public blockchain should be open to everyone to participate in, and control should be distributed among many stakeholders. While each mobile developer can put a different weight on the importance of decentralization, a blockchain still needs some amount of decentralization to offer a clear alternative to centralized databases.

A summary of our criteria is included below:

CriterionExplanation
Adoption Does the blockchain have strong and active developer and user communities?
Scalability How many transactions per second can the blockchain handle? What are the gas fees?
Development difficulty How easy is it for new developers to become familiar with the chain?
Security Is the blockchain resistant to attacks?
Decentralization How distributed is the blockchain?

You may have recognized that three of these five dimensions are drawn from the blockchain trilemma. In the context of web3 mobile, however, we have rearranged the importance of the trilemma and added two additional criteria (adoption and development difficulty) to emphasize the practical side of building web3 on iOS and Android. Our view is that most mobile developers and users are not web3-native, and ease of use is critical for any blockchain ecosystem to succeed on mobile.

With these criteria, we can now compare four major blockchain ecosystems: Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, and BNB Smart Chain. For each blockchain, we assign a score from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best, on each dimension listed above.

Ethereum: Mature and robust ecosystem, but with scalability problems

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”, as the oft-quoted saying goes in the SaaS industry. In web3, one may well say, “nobody ever got fired for building on Ethereum”. From its conception in 2013 to now, the Ethereum blockchain has become almost synonymous with smart contract development. For iOS and Android developers, Ethereum offers the most popular, secure, decentralized, and feature-rich platform, though with lower speed and higher transaction fees.

  • Adoption: 5/5. Ethereum is by far the most established blockchain platform for smart contracts. It boasts the biggest developer community by far in web3. According to Electric Capital, in December 2021, there were >4,000 monthly active developers on Ethereum, compared with ~900 on Solana. In terms of the number of code commits, Ethereum more than doubles those of Polygon, Solana, NEAR, and Avalanche (see Figure 1 below). In terms of user adoption, Ethereum and Polygon both have much higher monthly active users (at ~400K) than Solana (~170K) and Avalanche (~40K).
  • Scalability: 2/5. Scalability has long been Ethereum’s biggest problem, with notoriously low transaction speed and high gas fees during usage peaks. For example, in November 2021, the average transaction fee reached $63 per transaction. That is simply unacceptable for mass usage. While the Merge, which transitioned Ethereum’s protocol from proof-of-work (POW) to proof-of-stake (POS) in September 2022, could enable future scalability improvement, so far gas fees and transaction speed have stayed largely the same as before.
  • Development difficulty: 3/5. Ethereum earns a neutral score on development difficulty. On one hand, the Ethereum Virtual Machine is the most mature standard for smart contract development. Mobile developers also benefit from Ethereum’s strong developer communities on StackExchange, Reddit and Discord. Additionally, there are a huge amount of educational resources, open-source libraries, and tools to help developers get started on Ethereum. On the other hand, Solidity is a difficult language to master, especially if you have to delve into different gas-saving and security protection techniques. While the community is developing Vyper as an alternative language, Vyper is still far behind Solidity in adoption.
  • Security: 4/5. As a blockchain network, Ethereum earns a high mark for security. The blockchain is highly censorship-resistant and secure. At the same time, Solidity requires developers to have a high technical expertise to ensure smart contract security.
  • Decentralization: 5/5. Ethereum is by far the most decentralized among the blockchains considered in this post, with 500,000 active validators. For developers who deeply care about decentralization, Ethereum should rank at the top.
Monthly code commits for Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, BNB Chain, and Avalanche in the past 365 days.

Figure 1. Monthly code commits for Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, BNB Chain, and Avalanche in the past 365 days. Source: Token Terminal

From this analysis, we recommend Ethereum to mobile developers whose apps have either low web3 transaction volume or high merchandise value per transaction. If your end users care about security and decentralization, Ethereum is also a great choice.

Polygon: Winning the adoption race, with lingering decentralization concerns

Polygon was catapulted into the web3 limelight in 2022, thanks to a series of high-profile partnerships with major brands such as Instagram, Nike, and Reddit. The blockchain is a L2 solution built on top of Ethereum to emphasize scalability. Polygon uses sidechains for off-chain computation and relies on a decentralized network of proof-of-stake validators. For mobile developers, Polygon offers low gas fees, good brand adoption, and EVM-compatibility, but suffers from centralization concerns.

  • Adoption: 5/5. Adoption is the most important strength of the Polygon network. In 2022, many brands and Internet companies adopted Polygon in their web3 ventures, including Instagarm’s NFT feature, Reddit’s CryptoSnoos NFTs, Nike’s .SWOOSH platform, Stripe’s crypto payouts, and others. These partnerships are powerful endorsements of Polygon, and result in user and developer confidence in the network (see Figure 2). We see no sign of this trend stopping either, as Solana’s top NFT projects DeGods and y00ts switched to Polygon last month. If the Polygon team continues to execute, this can easily turn into an enduring network effect that mobile developers should take advantage of.
  • Scalability: 4/5. As of this writing, Polygon has a transaction speed of ~32 transactions per second (although the Polygon team claims that the network can handle up to ~7,000+ transactions per second). In comparison, Ethereum’s current processing speed is ~14 transactions per second. In addition, Polygon’s gas fees, at ~$0.01 per transaction, are much lower than those of Ethereum. Stripe’s press release said it best: “We chose [Polygon] for its low fees, speed, integration with Ethereum, and broad wallet compatibility.”
  • Development difficulty: 3/5. Because Polygon is an EVM-compatible chain, web3 developers who are familiar with Solidity development on Ethereum should have no problem building on Polygon. Therefore, we score Polygon the same score as Ethereum on development difficulty.
  • Security: 3/5. As a sidechain solution, Polygon trades off some measure of trustlessness for scalability. Users need to trust the off-chain computation run by Polygon validators. While this is unlikely to result in security breaches, Polygon’s validation mechanism is less secure than that of Ethereum. Moreover, the lack of decentralization can also expose security problems for the network.
  • Decentralization: 2/5. We believe that this is the biggest disadvantage of Polygon, as the number of validators on the network is capped at 100. Furthermore, according to the data on Polygonscan, the most recent 100 blocks are produced by only 3 validators, implying an even more centralized system. If this is not improved in the near future, it can make Polygon a target for malicious attacks.
Monthly active users for Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, BNB Chain, and Avalanche in the past 365 days.

Figure 2. Monthly active users for Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, BNB Chain, and Avalanche in the past 365 days. Source: Token Terminal

In summary, we believe that Polygon is a well-rounded choice for mobile developers looking to integrate web3 into their iOS and Android apps, thanks to its low fees, high speed, and strong brand adoption. Still, mobile developers should pay very close attention to Polygon’s potential security and decentralization concerns.

Solana: Highly scalable, though tainted by FTX associations

There is no denying it. The narrative around Solana has reversed violently since the FTX collapse in November 2022. Once touted as an “Ethereum killer” with impressive scalability results and innovative use cases, Solana now faces significant doubt on whether its ecosystem can survive without FTX’s backing. We think that Solana still offers very attractive transaction fees for mobile developers, and the network continues to be more decentralized. However, network stability and declining adoption are challenges that the ecosystem needs to overcome.

  • Adoption: 3/5. The FTX scandal significantly damaged Solana’s adoption. As FTX and its sister company Alameda were key backers of the Solana Foundation and other teams in the network. For some projects, e.g. the now-defunct Serum DEX, the FTX team was the core developer. Worse still, there are questions on whether Solana’s previous activity was artificially inflated by FTX. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a loss of both developers and users for Solana (see Figures 1 and 2 above). For instance, Solana’s top wallet Phantom and top NFT projects DeGods and y00ts have either expanded or moved to other chains entirely.
  • Scalability: 4/5. Solana’s claim to fame is its proof-of-history mechanism, which provides a strong boost to scalability. Solana’s processing speed at ~4,000 transactions per second is vastly better than those of other blockchains (see Figure 3). Its average gas fee is also extremely low at $0.00025 per transaction. However, the Solana chain was infamously prone to network outages, significantly limiting its usability potential.
  • Development difficulty: 2/5. Among the blockchains considered in this article, Solana is unique in its lack of EMV-compatibility. Additionally, the blockchain uses the Rust language, which provides some security benefits but creates an additional barrier to entry for mobile developers. These facts, together with the relatively younger Solana developer community, result in a lower score for Solana on the development difficulty dimension.
  • Security: 4/5. As a blockchain network, Solana is also highly secure and censorship-resistant. We view the use of the Rust language for smart contract development as a double-edged sword, as it corrects many shortcomings of Solidity while requiring significant learning investment from developers.
  • Decentralization: 3/5. As of this writing, Solana has 2,100+ validators, significantly more than Polygon (100 validators), BNBf Smart Chain (21 validators), and Avalanche (1,200 validators), though still fewer than Ethereum. These statistics should give iOS and Android developers confidence in Solana’s commitment to decentralization. However, the FTX scandal has also exposed how financially dependent many Solana protocols are to a single actor.
Transaction processing speed of Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, BNB Chain, and Avalanche on Jan 17, 2023.

Figure 3. Transaction processing speed of Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, BNB Chain, and Avalanche on Jan 17, 2023. Source: Etherscan, Polygonscan, Solscan, BscScan, and Avascan.

Based on this discussion, we conclude that mobile developers should wait until the Solana ecosystem shows clear signs of stabilization and recovery before building web3 on the chain. At the same time, developers should not dismiss Solana too quickly either, because Solana’s appeal as a fast, cost-effective, and decentralized blockchain is undeniable.

BNB Smart Chain: Trade-off between popularity and centralization risks

The BNB Smart Chain (BSC) is a L1 chain launched in August 2020 by Binance, the biggest crypto exchange in the world. iOS and Android developers building web3 features on BSC will get access to a large number of users, but at significant centralization and regulatory risks.

  • Adoption: 4/5. BSC has incredibly impressive usage statistics, at ~800,000 daily active wallets. Binance has also been very active in promoting project development and user participation on BSC, from developer fund to trading fee discount. As a result of these initiatives, the chain has seen many homegrown projects, including Venus, Alpaca Finance, and BiSwap. However, it is unclear how much of this adoption is organic.
  • Scalability: 4/5. As of this writing, the BNB Smart Chain processes 45 transactions per second and has an average gas fee of $0.03 per transaction, making its processing power similar to that of Polygon.
  • Development difficulty: 3/5. As an EVM-compatible chain, BNB Smart Chain does not present a high barrier to entry for developers who have already been familiar with Ethereum and Solidity.
  • Security: 1/5. We have strong reservations about the security of BSC, given that the network only has 21 active validators. More worryingly, this validator set is set by the Binance Chain (BNB), a network managed by just 11 validators. This means that BSC is highly susceptible to coordinated attacks by a very small number of validators.
  • Decentralization: 1/5. As discussed previously, the number of validators on BSC is extremely small compared to those of other chains. Even more importantly, the viability of BSC is inherently linked to the success of the Binance exchange. If the Binance exchange runs into economic and regulatory problems (of which there have been many troubling signs), users and developers will likely abandon BSC en masse.

To sum up, building on BNB Smart Chain can help iOS and Android developers get access to a large number of users, especially in non-US markets. However, given the continued regulatory and centralization risks, we believe that mobile developers should adopt a wait-and-see approach before starting their projects on BNB Smart Chain.

Conclusion: Ethereum and Polygon are the best choices for mobile developers

In conclusion, Ethereum and Polygon are the go-to blockchains for iOS and Android developers looking to add web3 to their apps. If you expect high transaction volume, Polygon comes out ahead, while if you prefer a widely accessible blockchain with mature communities, albeit with high transaction fees, Ethereum should be your first choice. Solana and BNB Smart Chain are worth keeping an eye for, especially if they manage to address the concerns outlined in this article (adoption and network stability for Solana, and decentralization and security for BNB Smart Chain).

We re-summarize our scorecard below (5 being the highest score).

CriterionEthereumPolygonSolanaBSC
Adoption 5534
Scalability 2444
Development difficulty 3323
Security 4341
Decentralization 5231

The Dreamerly SDK, which allows iOS developers to mint and sell NFTs directly in iOS apps with just a few lines of code, currently supports the Polygon network. We will roll out our support for the Ethereum network in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

 

 


 

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