Apple has struck a deal with China’s only domestic bank card provider UnionPay, making it easier for Chinese consumers to buy its apps.
Apple said that Chinese consumers can now link their Apple ID with a UnionPay debit or credit card for one-tap purchase of apps. UnionPay has a near-monopoly on processing yuan-denominated payments made by bank cards and credit cards, although China last month opened up the sector to other qualified firms.
“The ability to buy apps and make purchases using UnionPay cards has been one of the most requested features from our customers in China,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, in a statement. “China is already our second largest market for app downloads, and now we’re providing users with an incredibly convenient way to purchase their favorite apps with just one-tap.”
Absent from the announcement was mention of Apple Pay, the home-grown payment service which Apple launched earlier this year for the U.S. market. Apple Pay lets iPhone users pay at certain stores like McDonald’s and Walgreen by holding their phone near a sensor.
The UnionPay partnership could potentially open the door for Apple Pay in China, if Apple can strike agreements with popular retailers and overcome technical and regulatory hurdles. Another route for Apple is a possible alliance with Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company, whose payment affiliate Alipay is the country’s largest mobile payment processor.
Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma said last month that the company would be interested in partnering with Apple in payments. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook had said he would meet with Ma, without specifying the type of partnerships they would discuss.
A possible scenario is for Alibaba’s financial affiliate to provide back-end services for Apple’s Apple Pay payment system, Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai said in an interview earlier this month. That could entail iPhone users in China paying for goods with Apple Pay using money from their Alipay accounts, he said.