Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are coming to China in early 2016, in a potential defensive move by China UnionPay to fend off competition from domestic mobile payment rivals on the rise in China, including Alipay and Tencent.
Apple Inc. signed a deal with China UnionPay that will enable the processor’s 4.5 billion credit and debit cardholders to pay contactlessly via Near Field Communication (NFC) with Apple Pay using the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, the companies announced Dec. 18.
On the heels of Apple’s announcement, Samsung Electronics announced a similar deal with the state-run China UnionPay to enable Samsung Pay for Galaxy and Note devices. The deal gives UnionPay access to the tokenization technology that provides security for Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, which is a plus for an estimated 15 participating banks in China.
Apple Pay, which launched in the U.S. in 2014 and more recently expanded to the U.K., Canada and Australia, will work the same way in China as it does in those markets.
Apple and Samsung scored a coup by cracking the China market, but the deals say more about China UnionPay’s desire to build muscle in mobile payments than about opening up the Chinese payments market to outside competition, according to experts.
UnionPay’s motivation to work with Apple Pay and Samsung Pay is to cut into the market dominance of Alibaba’s Apple Pay and Tencent’s WeChat mobile payment services, said Tristan Hugo-Webb, an associate director at Mercator Advisory Group. And that won’t be a slam-dunk for UnionPay, even with the slick new technology Apple and Samsung bring to the party.
Alipay, the mobile wallet of Alibaba’s financial arm Ant Financial, has about 45% of the mobile payment market share in China and is popular with iPhone owners, as is Tencent’s Tenpay app, which accounts for less than 20% share. “Alipay has successfully defended itself against WeChat, so there is very little reason to believe Alipay will be easily usurped at the top of the market,” Hugo-Webb said.
Added Jordan McKee, a senior analyst with 451 Research: “The prospects for Apple Pay and Samsung Pay with UnionPay to displace Alipay and Tencent are slim, given their pervasive role in Chinese consumers’ financial—and social—lives. Mobile payments success in China will likely mean finding ways to collaborate and integrate with these dominant services.”
China UnionPay’s latest moves in mobile payments suggest a new willingness to expand through partnerships. Earlier this week the processor announced a deal with Powa Technologies. But whether these deals mean improved prospects for Visa and MasterCard to enter China’s payments market is less clear.
Because Apple Pay rides on existing rails in China, it doesn’t change the card network dynamics at all, analysts suggest. “It’s been stated that China will one day open up to Visa and MasterCard, but you could argue UnionPay’s moves with Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are almost a defensive position to ensure no opportunities are left for Visa and MasterCard if and when they eventually enter the market,” said David Parker, CEO of U.K.-based Polymath Consulting.
On the hardware side, the new agreements are positives for Apple and Samsung. If China UnionPay gets traction with mobile payments, it will only enhance sales in one of the world’s fastest-growing market for handsets. Apple Inc. already derives almost 25% of overall revenues from the region that includes China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. For the fiscal fourth quarter, Apple’s revenue from China alone doubled to $12.5 billion.