Apple Pay arrives in China this week

The mobile payments service is about to hit the world's largest smartphone market, but at least one major challenge awaits.

Apple has put a lot of effort into getting Apple Pay in China.

CNET

Apple Pay could land in China as soon as Thursday.

Reps for the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China have spread the word via social media that the mobile payments service will launch for its customers on February 18, according to Reuters. A separate post from the WeChat account of China Guangfa Bank credit cards on the Sina Tech website said that Apple Pay will launch Thursday at 5:00 a.m. local time.

The Chinese version of the Apple Pay website still lists the service as "coming soon," but it does note the names of several supporting banks.

While the concept of paying for goods and services with smartphones has been around for years, Apple Pay helped ignite consumer interest in late 2014, as have Google's Android Pay and the Samsung Pay systems. Credit card companies have their own spin on the concept, and even retailers like Walmart are getting into the game.

Apple Pay has already been adopted in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. To gain more power and credibility, though, the service needs to expand further. China is an especially key region for mobile payments as it represents the world's largest smartphone market.

Apple Pay faces at least one significant challenge to gaining traction in China.

Paying for items via mobile phones is already a common task for many Chinese consumers, largely through two of the country's online giants: Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group. At the end of last year, 358 million Chinese had been paying for goods via their smartphones, Reuters said, citing data from the China Internet Network Information Center.

Apple must convince such consumers to give Apple Pay a shot.

The company has been aggressive in forging the right deals in China. Apple announced in December a partnership with China UnionPay, which has a lock on the country's credit and debit card processing market. So far, 19 Chinese lenders are named as Apple Pay partners, according to Reuters, and another two will join at launch Thursday.

The Greater China region is Apple's second largest smartphone market in terms of revenue, just behind the United States. Last quarter, smartphone sales in the region surpassed $10 billion for the first time. That adds up to a lot of potential iPhone owners who could be persuaded to try Apple Pay.

In addition, another country may be on Apple Pay's horizon. The service could expand to France, with Apple announcing the launch during the first half of the year, according to MacRumors, which cited French website iGeneration. No details were revealed as to when Apple Pay might actually kick off in France.

For in-store transactions, Apple Pay works with the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch. For making in-app purchases, the service works with all those devices as well as with the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 4 and iPad Pro.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.

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