Microsoft China staff can't log on with an Android, so Redmond buys them iThings

Google's absence creates software distribution issues not even mighty Microsoft can handle

Microsoft China will provide staff with Apple devices so they can log on to the software giant's systems.

The Register confirmed this odd state of affairs today after Bloomberg reported that Microsoft China has told its workers to stop using Android devices in the workplace – because they can't be used for authentication.

A Microsoft spokesperson sent us the following statement:

"Microsoft Authenticator and Identity Pass apps are officially available on the Apple and Google Play stores. Due to the lack of availability of Google Mobile Services in this region, we look to offer employees a means of accessing these required apps, such as an iOS device."

That's a remarkable statement, for a couple of reasons. For one, China does not lack for app stores: local giants Tencent, Huawei, and Oppo all run Android app stores. Porting an app for distribution in those stores is not a chore that should terrify Earth's largest software developer.

Yet Microsoft appears not to want to make that effort.

For another, side-loading apps by uploading a .APK is a possibility, but Microsoft evidently won't go there, either.

Some vendors also offer private app stores. Again, Microsoft's not chosen such offerings.

It's also seemingly ignored its own tech: the Windows Subsystem for Android that makes it possible to run Android apps inside Windows 11. Yes, that service relied on Amazon's app store, and Microsoft binned it just 18 months after launch. But the code presumably remains intact somewhere within Redmond's vaults.

Buying a few iPhones is, however, probably cheaper and easier than bothering to stand up an internal app store – especially after Microsoft offered to move hundreds of its Chinese staff to other nations and closed all of its retail stores in China.

The political cost of this move is harder to calculate. Microsoft's actions are effectively a vote of no confidence in China's mobile ecosystem, given it won't trust local app stores or adopt side-loading for Android devices that connect to local networks. Microsoft has reason to doubt China, which it accuses of acquiring a golden cryptographic key and using it to access email accounts belonging to US government officials.

Nadella and co may not have much to lose, in the long term, by taking a hard line in China. The Middle Kingdom is pushing to replace Western tech products with home-grown creations and undertaking actions such as banning use of Apple devices by workers in some government offices.

Just what happens if a Microsoft worker needs to authenticate using an iThing while in a Chinese government office is anyone's guess. ®

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