Apple App Store opens for Chinese Card UnionPay

Millions of Chinese Apple fans now will be able to buy from Apple’s App Store, courtesy of UnionPay, the country’s largest domestic banking card provider.

Already Apple’s second largest market for app downloads, Chinese customers wanting to buy paid apps previously needed to use an international credit card service such as Visa. The only other option was going through multiple steps to transfer funds from a local bank account (choosing a bank, choosing an online password, and then depositing a minimum of around the equivalent of $8 in a prepaid account).

“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 senior vice president.

UnionPay is not only the biggest bank card in China. It’s actually the only Chinese bank card, with over 4.5 billion issued worldwide.

The state-owned payment processor UnionPay enjoyed a monopoly within China until recently. China’s State Council announced in October that China would open its payment system to foreign companies like Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.

To Apple Pay or Not?

The UnionPay network reaches all cities and rural areas in China. China UnionPay has also enabled UnionPay Card acceptance in over 140 countries.

Will Apple Pay be enabled for the UnionPay’s QuickPay kiosks installed in thousands of Chinese cities and town? Apple and UnionPay are not saying for now.

But Apple’s iPhone 6 demand in China is so strong, more than three months after release, that Chinese resellers are still lining up each morning outside Apple Stores in the U.S. to buy up that day’s supply.

To date only the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which include built-in NFC transmitters, work with Apple Pay.

CEO Tim Cook last month said he wants to roll-out the Apple Pay service in China.

Apple would need to find local partners to accomp[lish that, and UnionPay may possibly be one of them. Apple has also said its looking at a potential partnership with AliPay. This Chinese payment service is affiliated with Internet giant Alibaba Group, China’s largest e-commerce company.

Top Photo by See-ming Lee