Forget about waiting in line at the ticket counter. Beijing Metro wants its passengers to swipe their smartphones instead of tickets and prepaid cards. The subway has started promoting the use of mobile payments on the Fangshan Line which runs through the south of the city. Beijing has thus beaten New York, where the local authorities have announced introducing NFC payments by 2018.

To use the service, passengers need to download an app and have smartphones with wireless NFC (near-field communication) technology. The lack of NFC technology on most smartphones was the reason why mobile payments at subway stations haven’t caught on earlier even though Beijing Metro installed NFC readers that accept mobile phone payments back in 2013. Only 1 million passengers have used mobile phone payments so far, a far cry from the 10 million people that travel on the system every day.

Luckily, mobile phone manufacturers have been putting out more and more NFC-enabled phones on the market. Samsung, Huawei, Nubia, Meizu and 160 other brands now support mobile payments through NFC. Other mobile phone users can opt to replace their SIM card with an NFC-enabled one.

One notable exception, however, is Apple’s iPhone. According to the body that manages the city’s public transportation cards, Beijing Municipal Administration and Communication Card Co. Ltd. (BMAC), Apple does not allow NFC ports on its products to connect to third-party payment terminals.

The move looks like another defeat for Apple Pay which has failed to win over the mobile payment market in China. Alipay and WeChat Pay currently cover 90 percent of the mobile payment market. Apple Pay has faced similar hurdles in Australia where the company is facing resistance from Australian financial institutions to adopt the service. Local banks have requested access to Apple’s NFC radio but the company has refused, claiming that doing so would compromise the security of its platform.

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.

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