alipay-blue.JPGAlibaba’s financial and payment affiliate Ant Financial rolled out a new version of its Alipay app for iOS and Android in what the company called—the most revolutionary update in the past 12 years.

In addition to a shift from orange to blue color scheme for the new logo, the app will combine two former independent brands “Alipay” and “Alipay Wallet” into one. The new update touches more aspects of consumers’ daily lives and some of the new features are as follows:

1. Local Life

In a major change of the home interface, the 9.0 app develops the previous Service Window, a first-level entrance where merchants can have users to follow their official service accounts, into a more inclusive Merchant tab, allowing users to learn the locations of nearby restaurants and shops, get discounted coupons, and settle payments at merchants’ e-shops via Alipay, as they can when shopping online.

Local services will be available via Koubei, a recently launched joint venture between Alibaba Group and Ant Financial aimed at making local services more accessible through O2O (online-to-offline) e-commerce.

2. Social Networking

Another significant change is the addition of Friends tab, which contains social functions such as messaging, an instant money transfer button so people can pay each other electronically, and an IOU tab allowing users to keep track of friendly loans.

3. Financial Features and More

The new Fortune tab has connected all of the users’ accounts for mutual fund and investment services like Yuebao, Zhaocaibao and Yulebao, as well as their stock accounts to display the total investment sum in a bid to facilitate stock trading and participate crowdfunding programs. Peer-to-peer payment for family members or loved ones was integrated. It also supports cross-border payment and tax refund services for travelers in countries like Singapore, Thailand and Korea.

Alipay9.0

Started as an online payment and escrow service, Alipay has now grown into one-stop financial solution for users in the decade-long development. The newly added features have shown the company’s attempt to further tap China’s rising O2O industry in providing more value-added services for both small merchants, retailers and users.

Alipay, which claimed 400 million annual active users with 80% of those being mobile users, has initialized its offline expansion since 2013. The company disclosed this month that Alipay supports payment at overall 130,000 offline stores or restaurants, ranging from fast food brands like KFC to super market chains like Carrefour and Walmart. 200 hospitals have joined Alipay’s “Future Hospital” program. The majority of ride sharing apps, Didi-Kuaidi, Uber, Yongche and Shenzhou Zhuanche have integrated Alipay.

In addition to positive feedback, the app has received some public criticism as its interfaces of the newly-added Merchant and Friends tab look very similar to Dianping and WeChat, two leading apps in local life and IM field.

Alibaba has made its efforts to tap social networking sector in the past to take on WeChat, but its IM tool Laiwang didn’t achieve the success the e-commerce company expected despite large-scale promotions. When taking about the logic behind integrating social functions, Fan Zhiming, president of Ant Financial’s payment business unit, stressed that Alipay 9.0 is not designed to be a stand-alone messaging app like Laiwang. Rather, it allows users to communicate mostly on financial-related matters.

image credit: Alipay