SANTA CLARA,CA/USA – FEBRUARY 1, 2014: Microsoft corporate building in Santa Clara, California. Microsoft is a multinational corporation that develops, supports and sells computer software and services.

According to an internal memo, tech titan Microsoft recently announced that its employees in China will be required to switch from Android devices to iPhones for work purposes starting September 2024.

Microsoft’s decision comes in the wake of a significant breach where Chinese state-sponsored hackers exploited a flaw in Microsoft Exchange software to access the email accounts of government employees and U.S. companies. This incident highlighted vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s security framework, prompting the company to implement stricter security measures. Overall, the mandate is part of Microsoft’s broader “Secure Future Initiative,” an effort to fortify its products and services against cyber threats. The initiative, launched after a series of cyber intrusions, includes measures such as enforcing multifactor authentication, enhancing cloud security, and addressing vulnerabilities more swiftly using AI.

Employees in China will be required to use Apple devices to verify their identities and log into work systems. Microsoft’s decision to ban Android devices stems from the unavailability of Google Play Store in China, which limits access to essential security apps like Microsoft Authenticator and Identity Pass. These apps are essential for multi-factor authentication, a security measure that requires users to provide additional verification beyond just a password when logging in. Since Microsoft cannot guarantee the secure availability of these apps on Android devices in China through local app stores, the company opted for a more controlled approach – mandating iPhones for work purposes. iPhones, on the other hand, can access these apps seamlessly through the official Apple App Store, which is readily available in China. Although these apps are available on Google’s Play Store, the store is blocked in China, leaving local alternatives from companies like Huawei and Xiaomi.

To facilitate the transition, Microsoft will provide iPhone 15 models to employees using Android devices. Collection points across China, including Hong Kong, have been established where employees can pick up their new iPhones. This initiative underscores the growing differences between mobile ecosystems in China and other countries, with Apple’s App Store being the sole platform for downloading mandatory security apps.

The decision to switch to iPhones in China comes amidst heightened geopolitical tensions between the US, where Microsoft is headquartered, and China. While iPhones have traditionally enjoyed a significant market share in China, recent years have witnessed a shift. Anxieties about data security and potential espionage have prompted some Chinese government agencies and state-owned companies to ban employee use of iPhones as well.