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Apple lets Siri integrate with Alipay, one of China’s most popular payment platforms

Time: 2018-04-23

Apple will now allow Siri to support voice commands for Alibaba’s Alipay -- in a tacit acknowledgement that local players are miles ahead when it comes to payments in China.

It means users will be able to tell Siri to open the Alipay payment screen directly, instead of having to tap open the app and then navigate to the page.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)

Though it might seem like a simple software update, the move is a big departure for Apple, which has been pushing its Apple Pay product in China’s booming mobile payment market -- worth a staggering 50 times the size of the US market.


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QR codes, used by Alipay and WeChat Pay, are more popular in China that NFC-based payment systems. (Picture: South China Morning Post)

It illustrates the sheer dominance of established players, with Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent's WeChat Pay making up 90 percent of the market.

It was always going to be a tough battle for late-entrant Apple Pay, which relies on the more secure NFC technology that is popular in the West.

But in China, QR codes dominate, thanks in part to Alibaba and Tencent building their mobile payment apps around the barcode-like square.

Unlike NFC (short for near-field communication), which requires expensive merchant terminals, QR codes are cheap and easy for small mom-and-pop stores to use -- all they need is a sign with a code.

And for shoppers, all they need is a smartphone with a camera -- and every phone has one. 

It certainly wasn’t from lack of trying -- Apple tried to lure customers with discounts of up to 50%, and points rewards of up to 50 times the usual amount.

And it’s not just foreign firms coming to grips with the reality of Alibaba and Tencent’s power.

When Xiaomi showed off its AI assistant at a phone launch event in Shanghai last month, it touted the system's ability to send money via WeChat Pay -- a move that set off a roar of approval from the audience.