It may have taken a bit longer than Tim Cook hoped, but Apple Pay is finally launching in China this week — with bank representatives from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Guangfa Bank and China Construction Bank revealing that the mobile payments service will be available from February 18.
These three banks will be joined by 16 other Chinese banks and financial organizations over the coming months.
China is the fifth country to get Apple Pay, but the second most important market after the United States — being Apple’s second-largest market by revenue. More than one year ago, Tim Cook called launching Apple Pay in China “top of the list” in terms of the company’s priorities, but the process of passing the necessary regulatory channels and certification steps delayed its launch.
Another impediment was Apple’s negotiations with Chinese banks, which turned sour when there was disagreement over what percentage of transactions Apple should be entitled to for its fees.
Given that Apple Pay has not taken off elsewhere quite as rapidly as some predicted it would, it will be interesting to see how it fares in China — which Cook has been outspoken about believing will soon represent Apple’s biggest market worldwide.
The service’s two biggest challenges locally will come from established giants including social networking and gaming firm Tencent and e-commerce titan Alibaba Group. Still, given that 358 million people in China (more than the entire U.S. population) have already paid for items using a mobile phone at some point, this could be a massive boon for Apple if it takes off.