Apple Pay is live in China—but getting it to work for everyone is another matter

Is this thing on?
Is this thing on?
Image: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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This post has been corrected.

Apple Pay arrived in China yesterday (Feb. 18), a year and a half after launching in the US. Expectations were mixed, given that Apple faces an uphill struggle against entrenched local competitors.

One day in, things look a bit bumpy. Chinese users complained on social media that their bank cards were not compatible with the service, and tech blogs that took it for a test drive found it wasn’t widely available, even at international chains.

After trying to register his credit card to Apple Pay, one Weibo user named Xu Xiaoqi posted a screenshot (below) of a message saying that his bank, China Merchants Bank, does not support the service. He tweeted to the bank: “When adding my credit card I always get this message saying that you don’t support Apple Pay, but your customer service says you do. When is this going to get settled?”

Image: Weibo/Xu Xiaoqi

Others had similar difficulties getting on board. One took to Weibo to say that she couldn’t bind her card to Apple Pay until she had signed out of iCloud and then logged back in again. Another mentioned that, “for the life of me I couldn’t find out where to bind my bank card to Apple Pay,” before realizing his iPhone 5s doesn’t support Apple Pay. “I’m such a peasant. I guess I’ll continue using Alipay .”

Apple Pay may ultimately help China’s big banks beat Alipay offline, because Apple Pay is more convenient to use, and is expected to be an integral part of the banks’ aggressive push into payments. But right now the service’s reach is limited.

Currently, only iPhone 6 and 6 Plus handsets can use the service. The tech blog on Sina, one of China’s most popular portals, noted that there are only 84 million devices that are compatible with Apple Pay in China (link in Chinese). WeChat and Alipay work on any of China’s estimated 1.2 billion smartphones.

A writer for the Chinese phone blog Leiphone, who goes by the name of San Jin Jin Jin, took the service out for a very unscientific test drive yesterday, with mixed results. After registering a card with China Merchants Bank, the blogger had success paying for an item at Seven-Eleven (link in Chinese). But staff at KFC said that the Apple Pay trainer still hadn’t arrived, Pizza Hut staff said they hadn’t heard of Apple Pay, and McDonald’s said they didn’t support the service. Of seven stops at international supermarkets, restaurants, and convenience stores, Apple Pay was available and working in only two.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Apple had reported 30 million signups to Apple Pay in its first day in China. The number in question was unverified; Apple has not released any figures so far.