After a long wait, Apple’s Chinese customers can pay for goods in its App Store with the country’s most popular credit and debit card service, paving the way for new growth in virtual spending on the media, games and apps Apple offers online.
The United States technology giant said in a Monday statement that Chinese users could now use China UnionPay cards to buy items in the App Store.
The agreement with UnionPay should make purchases much more convenient for Chinese users, who before had to set up prepaid accounts by sending money from a bank account to the Apple store to make purchases.
With a virtual monopoly on card payments in China, UnionPay also gives Apple instant access to a huge swath of new potential customers. More than 4.5 billion UnionPay cards have been issued to date, according to the Apple release.
That is good news for Apple, and also for the burgeoning economy of mobile application makers in China, who sell their software on the App Store and share revenue with Apple.
‘‘China is already our second-largest market for app downloads, and now we’re providing users with an incredibly convenient way to purchase their favorite apps with just one tap,’’ Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, said in the release.
Mr. Cue added that the ability for customers to link their Apple IDs with UnionPay cards had been the most requested feature from Chinese.
That’s not surprising, given the number of steps Chinese consumers needed to take — including selecting their bank, providing an online banking password, and then depositing a minimum of 50 renminbi, or about $8, to set up a prepaid account — just to make a purchase from the App Store.
"It should have a very significant impact,’’ said Mark Natkin, founder and managing director of the tech research firm Marbridge Consulting in Beijing.
"So many of these things in the App Store you are buying on a whim anyway. If you’re buying something on a whim and you don’t care that much, your patience with a multistep process is pretty thin,’’ he added.
Since its creation in 2002 as an interbank transaction and settlement system to unify Chinese bank cards, UnionPay has been well protected from competition by China’s powerful central bank.
The new agreement gives Apple an important, and nearly ubiquitous, partner in the country.
The cooperation also provides a new advantage over Google’s Android mobile operating system.
Because the Google Play app store is blocked in China, several independent app stores have sprung up supporting Android. With quality control sometimes lax and payment systems inconsistent, customers are generally more willing to spend money on Apple’s store than on the Android stores, according to analysts.