Watch out, Amazon: Apple and Alibaba may be teaming up.
Both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma spoke at the WSJ Live conference last night about their interest in working with one another. Ma, who was first on the stage, said that he was interested in working with Apple as part of a mutually beneficial payments partnership between the two companies. The Alibaba CEO referred to such a partnership as a “marriage.”
Cook, for his part, said that he would be meeting with Ma later this week to discuss potential partnerships, though he didn’t say what area of their businesses might be involved.
“I have the utmost respect for Jack,” he said. “We love to partner with people that are wicked smart, that have flexible teams, that are product based, that push us. And we like to push them. Those partners we work the best with. And I think Jack has a company that’s exactly like that.”
An Alipay partnership could be big news for Apple, especially as Alibaba continues to expand its business around the world. The company’s payment service bills itself as “China’s leading third-party online payment solution,” and teaming up with Apple Pay could help Alibaba extend its reach even further into retail stores. At the moment, Alipay customers can check out with QR codes at participating Chinese retailers, but an Apple Pay team-up would expand the service’s capabilities.
It’s already clear that customers are clamoring to use Apple’s new payment technology. Cook told the WSJ Live audience that customers added 1 million new credit cards to Apple Pay in just the first three days of its availability. Right now, the service is limited to the U.S., and tied to just Apple’s brand new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, so there’s still a lot of room for growth.
But Ma’s hope for a marriage could put the skids on any potential partnership. Apple isn’t well known for compromising its policies for other companies, so the two sides may not reach an agreement. The Cupertino-based company still doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Amazon about payment processing, leading the Seattle-based company to avoid selling digital goods through Apple’s platforms.
There’s another hurdle in place for the companies: Alibaba’s massive growth in China has drawn the watchful eye of the country’s regulators. It’s possible that those entities might try to stop the two companies from working together, especially in the payment space.
But assuming that the companies can work out a prenup, teaming up would tie together two of the hottest tech firms. Alibaba had a blockbuster IPO earlier this year, and Apple’s stock is at its highest point in the company’s history.
A video of Cook’s comments on Alibaba is embedded below: