Never mind what PayPal has just unveiled today -- look at these mobile phone credit card readers from China instead. If you ask Square CEO Jack Dorsey, we're sure he'll have to a thing or two to say about these familiar-looking dongles (and not to mention the various weibo microblogging services that were inspired by Jack's Twitter platform). Coincidentally, all three of these pictures above showed up on Sina Weibo earlier today, albeit from different accounts with very little detail in each post -- we'd like to think they're trying to make a point one after the other. So who's behind these little plastic bricks from the Far East?
Starting from the left (courtesy of Xiaomi Vice President Li Wanqiang) we have Lakala, a well-known Chinese payment service provider whose POS terminals are featured in major supermarkets and convenience stores. We spoke to the company's CEO Sun Taoran who assured us that this is a booming business in China, as credit cards are more popular than you'd expect these days (most large eateries, supermarkets and even karaoke bars in domestic cities will happily accept them); and of course, he'd certainly want a slice of that massive smartphone pie over there. The Beijing-based company also said its dongle will function even without a phone client installed, but it wouldn't further elaborate at this point. Expect to see Lakala's product launch in May.
Obviously, Lakala isn't alone. iBoxPay, the Shenzhen company featured in the middle (though branded by the almighty UnionPay), announced its own dongle back in last summer, though it's not exactly sure if this latest version has all the extra functions (RFID plus barcode scanning) that the company promised -- its bland website still teases the original bulky design. At least the company's weibo account confirmed that it's currently running a closed trial program with the new one.
Lastly we have 99bill who announced a similar product back in September, and it looks like a small group is also trialing this dongle. As we dug deeper, we also came across YeahKa who launched its Square clone last September; while at about the same time four-year-old startup QianDaiPay first demoed a similar card reader, but with NFC support built into it as well (pictured right).
It'll be interesting to see which of these companies will become the big boy in China's mobile payment space. While most of these cheap card readers aren't even yet available on the market, Lakala appears to have the best chance with its existing network and porfolio, though we'd also like to see QianDaiPay beating the odds with its ambitious combination of two mobile payment technologies. Still, in a country like China, we can imagine security remaining the first concern for all potential customers -- not so much the security of the devices itself, but how scammers could cash in with them or even use KIRF readers to skim the credit cards. Whoever can convince Chinese consumers that this is unlikely to happen will score major brownie points.
[QianDaiPay image credit: Hexun]