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Microsoft China bans Android, demands staff use iPhones

Microsoft's R&D facility in China (Source: Microsoft)

As part of an overall security drive, Microsoft in China has told staff they will all be required to switch to iPhone.

As China's government has variously been said to be banning iPhones, and not exactly banning iPhones, now Microsoft is definitely doing the opposite in the country. According to a Microsoft memo seen by Bloomberg, all staff in China must switch to iPhone from September 2024.

The memo says that staff using Android smartphones, including China's own Huawei or Xiaomi, will be provided with an iPhone 15. Microsoft is reportedly setting up collection points for iPhones across its facilities in China.

Significantly, it's also doing this in Hong Kong. One of the issues prompting the switch concerns how the Google Play Store is not available in mainland China, but it is in Hong Kong.

Android owners on the China mainland have instead had to use app platforms run by Huawei or Xiaomi. Microsoft has now blocked access to those sites.

As Apple's iOS App Store is available in China, the intention is that all staff switching to iPhones will be able to use the Microsoft Authenticator password manager, plus its Identity Pass app.

Microsoft does not disclose how many employees it has in China. But it has operated in the country since 1992, and says that its "most complete subsidiary and largest R&D center outside the United States is in China." That research center alone employs over 6,000 engineers and scientists.

In May 2024, the Wall Street Journal reported that it had asked around 800 local employees to consider relocating to other countries, including the US.

Neither Microsoft nor Apple have commented publicly on the move.

Separately, in May 2024, Microsoft added support for passkeys. Rather than passwords and regular authentication, passkeys mean an app can use the iPhone's Face ID for biometric authentication.