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Forget bonking, now mobes can buy stuff using pay-by-SQUEAK

Chinese spurn NFC, go for acoustic-coupled modem look

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Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has launched a mobile wallet app with a more-than-passing resemblance to Apple's Passbook. It enables fandroids to pay each other over the air and squeaks every time it's used.

The new wallet comes from Alipay, the financial arm of Alibaba, which already processes 8.5 million transactions a day for its half-a-billion users. As well as storing credit card details - which can be used in shops via QR Codes, barcodes or the aforementioned squeaking - the Alipay Wallet can handle person-to-person transactions enabling every user to become a merchant.

Few electronic wallets support these peer-to-peer transactions as they are more complicated and harder to secure than the usual customer-to-merchant payments. But P2P is essential if electronic systems are going to replace cash in a significant way so the inclusion in Alipay's app is significant.

The user interface is inspired by Apple's Passbook, and it can store vouchers for money off products and other offers just like its Cupertino rival.

Apple and almost everybody else is waiting for radio-wave-based Near Field Communications (NFC) technology to emerge, enabling pay-by-bonk payments: a suitably equipped phone is waved over or tapped against a till or any other NFC terminal to send its the payee's details so transactions can be completely wirelessly.

However, Alipay is pushing ahead with pay-by-squeak.

Pay-by-squeak requires two devices with the Alipay Wallet installed, which means Android for the moment though an iPhone version is promised. Using the microphone and speaker, the two devices beep to each other until the transfer has been authenticated.

Alternatives include an on-screen barcode or QR Code, read by the cameras on phones running software provided by Alipay, which is the crux of the matter and explains the desire for an early presence in the market.

Stores, even in China, are conservative, and won't invest in payment-accepting hardware unless they're confident it has a long-term future. PayPal's barcode-based system launched last May, but despite boasting four fashionable frock shops at launch it hasn't signed up anyone else since then, demonstrating just how hard it is to get retailers on board. ®

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