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Microsoft Account vs. Apple ID: Comparing pros and cons

Microsoft Authenticator
Microsoft Authenticator (Image credit: Windows Central)

In both cases, your account is the key to virtually every service these companies offer. A Windows machine without a Microsoft account is like bread without butter. In order to get everything to a fully functional state, signing into your account may be required. Apple has that too with its Apple ID, and it is similar to a Microsoft Account but not necessarily the same thing.

Creating new accounts

Getting an Apple ID is as simple as getting a Microsoft account. There are multiple ways to get one, and the most common one is by simply signing up while you're setting up your macOS or iOS device. There is an option, right from the device setup, to create a new account just like there is a way of creating a new Microsoft Account right from a Windows phone setup process or a Windows PC setup process.

If you want to make a new Apple ID before buying your device, you can visit Apple's signup page (opens in new tab). The process is straightforward. You need to put in your name, birthday and the usual stuff, such as email and security questions. The most important part here is the region. Once you set a region and a specific country, it's very hard to change it, if not impossible. This is not the case with Windows and Microsoft Accounts because you can easily just go into settings and change the device region to download apps from outside of your country.

If you set your actual region, you have access to all apps that are available specifically for that region, as well as all apps available worldwide. However, you won't have access to a few Microsoft apps that require you to be in the U.S. to use, such as Word Flow or Cortana. If you use those services, you may want to spoof your region by setting it to the U.S. This will, obviously, prevent you from using local apps such as location-specific banking apps or local traffic apps. However, a workaround for this is to create an additional Apple ID with the desired region.

In most cases, you do not need a payment card connected to your Apple ID, just like you don't need one with a Microsoft Account. While it's required for making payments through Apple Pay or the App Store, it's not an obligatory part of signing up. Last time I experimented with regions and Apple IDs, I kept seeing a very annoying message asking me to add my credit card if I wanted to proceed. Doing so resulted in an error saying that my bank was not American and the region change could not proceed.

Apple ID and two-factor authentication

One downside to using an Apple ID is the security. While the technology from Apple's side may not be outdated, the two-factor authentication for users is definitely flawed.

Apple ID not only uses Apple's own system of two-factor authentication, which renders it incompatible with many authentication apps, such as Microsoft Authenticator, Google Authenticator or Authy. The system Apple uses is also far from secure. Here's why: When you try to sign in with two-factor authentication, the window with the code shows up on the same device you're using, which could be your Mac or iOS device. That defeats the purpose of two-factor authentication and makes the system very insecure if someone gets ahold of your device.

Microsoft Accounts use proper two-factor authentication, and the method is compatible with a multitude of other apps. It's generally a much more pleasant experience.

Managing an Apple ID can also be confusing. Different settings are located in different pages that are completely unrelated, for example, and a lot of Apple services automatically start using iCloud after you log in. Not everyone wants to use iCloud. Apple also requires you to put in your password in many places where it probably shouldn't be necessary. For example, random popups asking me to put in my Apple ID have shown up constantly on my iPhone over the past few months, for seemingly no reason.

That's just not the case with a Microsoft Account on a Windows phone.

Microsoft Account vs. Apple ID: Conclusion

If you want to use an Apple device with all the functionality it offers, you cannot avoid making and using an Apple ID. As confusing as the service may be, it works. But it won't provide a pleasant experience. If you're used to using a Windows Phone, prepare for some big changes when it comes to accounts and security.

Dennis Bednarz is a former writer for Windows Central and the guy behind ModMy. He has been a recognised member of the Microsoft community for years and owns everything from Lumia phones to Surface PCs. He occasionally likes to rant about Windows Phone and drink tea. You can go ahead and follow him on Twitter at @DennisBednarz

40 Comments
  • * gets tinfoil hat ready.... *
  • why?
  • To me, it wasn't that different but I do like the way Microsoft does it better.
  • I've had the opposite experience with my Microsoft / Apple accounts: my Microsoft account sometimes asks me to re-input my password for seemingly no reason while my Apple account remains silent. Though, that might have more to do with the fact I use far more Microsoft services than I do of Apple. With Apple, it's just to sign in to the device and then occasionally to download an app. And I uninstalled the iTunes store app so anytime I go to the App Store, I no longer get prompted to sign in. I use Groove, anyway.
  • The lack of backups makes incredibly difficult to recover accounts like TeamViewer, Tumblr, Amazon, etc. in Microsoft Authenticator with the risk of losing the account forever.
  • Agreed ..its awful
  • this is more like a guide to apple id
  • ^this.
  • One huge problem with Microsoft's system is that their app creates codes with a different number of digits than some of their systems (ahem, ONEDRIVE) use for authentication.  Thus, you're stuck using the "text me" option.  NOT good, Microsoft.
  • I haven't seen that to be true. Authenticator works for everything.
  • Especially the new authenticator app. Just open it up, wait for it to show the matching code. Shazam
  • OneDrive doesn't create its own codes, it uses the same auth system as all other Microsoft services. 
  • I've never had this problem.
  • No thanks I'll. stick with MSFT TY, love using the authenticator App much safer.
  • Apple ID really pissed me off. I had to setup one for my work phone and it would NOT let me bypass the credit card part during initial setup. I had select create later, purchase a free app in the store, and THEN create the account b/c it'll let you bypass it there. The average user would not have known that and would have acquiesced to the demand of stored payment.
  • MSFT authenticator is far better than apple and the rest & it's simple too. I always brag about that authenticator app to my friends and they look wow by that 😆😂
  • The authenticator app is ok, but it stopped giving me notifications of requests a long time ago. I always need to manually open the app and approve.
  • Perhaps this is because the app is being affected by your phone's power management setting? 
  • Or battery optimisation setting?
  • I don't know, it's background task-enabled...
  • Had this once but reinstalled the app and worked as normal again. Been using it for about 2 years now.
  • I'll give it a try, I guess. I tried resetting it through the settings app and it didn't help.
  • It's an awesome app indeed. I love it, and use it all the time.
  • The only experience I had so far with Apple ID is that my iPhone wouldn't even let me launch the mobile without providing a valid Apple ID or creating one on the go. This experience adds a little more flavor to the part saying "If you want to use an Apple device with all the functionality it offers, you cannot avoid making and using an Apple ID."
  • The Microsoft Account 2FA has it's issues too. For example, on W10M you can approve the login from the notification even if the phone is locked. If you have your phone's notifications showing up on your Win10 PC (from Android or W10M) you'll get that notification as well and you can approve the request without needing that second device.
  • A Windows machine without a Microsoft account is like bread without butter.
    Not really, i had to change to windows 10 because windows 8.1 will not stay stable when i updated to Ryzen, but I do not have a MS account and Windows 10 works. Why would i need an MS account?  As for Apple, it is a bit more of pain to use an Mac without an Apple Id, but it is possible as i know someone who does.    
  • Ms works for me
  • Cant we just get a universal account and pick and choose what we want accross platforms.
  • Ah the utopia in your head sounds wonderful...unrealistic but wonderful.
  • Microsoft tried that 18 years ago with Passport and now everyone has their own system.
  • That "universal" convenience would make you an easier target for malicious actors.
  • That would be wonderful, to be honest. But will probably never happen.
  • Quote: "The system Apple uses is also far from secure. Here's why: When you try to sign in with two-factor authentication, the window with the code shows up on the same device you're using, which could be your Mac or iOS device. That defeats the purpose of two-factor authentication and makes the system very insecure if someone gets ahold of your device." Wrong. What the system does is give you a code that you must then match with the secondary device you're using. Additionally, on the iOS or macOS device, you are given two buttons: One to Accept the Log-In Request, and another to Reject it. It also gives you other information that clues you in on the type of device and the supposed location of such a device being used. If you see a pop-up for a device in Beijing China running Linux, then you simply reject the log-in attempt... Because the codes given out by Apple's 2FA are fairly random, there is no (at least known, to my knowledge) way to "guess" them with any high accuracy. This means their method is not really less secure than that or Microsoft and Google, it's just different. Also, the point of 2FA isn't to ***** and moan about implementation details. It's to spread the authentication process across multiple devices so that compromising an account is made more difficult. What you're talking about is completely non-factor, and literally ignorable. And while you're writing this uselessness, you're completely passing over important information about Apple IDs. The most important piece of information is that Apple IDs are not stand-alone. In order to create an Apple ID, you MUST use an email address that is not on any of Apple's own domains. You cannot use an iCloud, .Mac, MobileMe, etc. email address as your Apple ID. It won't work. So, in the case of many people here - the difference between the two is completely worthless to discuss, as they'll need that Microsoft Account (unless they're deleting it and switching to Google, Yahoo!, their University, or their ISP email systems) to create the Apple ID. You can own an iPhone, Mac, etc. without using iCloud at all - and without signing up for iCloud. They're all but worthless without an Apple ID unless used primarily in businesses (and managed as such).
  • To expand on what I mean at the end of the post above: Microsoft Accounts are everything in One. They are both the account used to Access Microsoft's eStorefronts, as well as the account used to Access Microsoft Services (OneDrive, Outlook.com, etc.) Apple IDs are different. They are only there for iTunes and App Stores (and anything that falls under that umbrella, like iTunes U and iBookstore). The other stuff that you think of when you think "Microsoft" Account has nothing to do with an Apple ID, but with the iCloud Services. You sign up for iCloud after you get your Apple ID, and it is bolted onto the same account as a sort of Alias. This is why most iOS users (at least in the US) are also consumers of Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft services. They can't get rid of them, because Apple mandates they keep that other account open.
  • Which is something that I found very confusing.
  • Quote: "As for Apple, it is a bit more of pain to use an Mac without an Apple Id, but it is possible as i know someone who does." That's untrue. Apple's macOS Apps all work offline without the need for an Apple ID or iCloud Account. They simply won't store items on iCloud. For example, you can still create Notes in the Notes App, while OneNote UWP on Windows 10 will not work *at all* without a Microsoft Account on the PC. Siri will still work without an Apple ID on the PC. Cortana will not work *at all* without a Microsoft Account on a Windows PC. iWork Apps will still work without an Apple ID on the PC. Office (UWP or Win32, Subscription or Perpetual) will not work *at all* without a Microsoft Account on the PC. iBooks will still read eBooks. iTunes will still play music. QuickTime will still play videos. Maps will still work. PIM Apps work with non-Apple services (obviously). The only time this becomes an issue is when you're dealing with services that are "duh" moments are far as this is concerned (Messages, FaceTime, App Store and iTunes/iBook Store, for example However, a lot of the benefit of Apple's devices derives from the software and the way these devices integrate and interoperate, so it makes very little sense to pass on an Apple ID. A lot of good *real desktop software* on the Mac is only available from the macOS App Store, for example, and not for download. Microsoft still hasn't gotten to that level in their transition to the Store.
  • We have a reply feature. You could have used it. Now it looks weird because people think you're quoting me which you don't.
  • Where are articles "Top 5 alternatives to Windows Central" and "For those, who watns to switch from Windows Central"?
  • The 'Conlclusion' paragraph is really lacking. It's not really a 'vs.' conclusion at all. And the last sentence can be taken two ways: If you're jumping from an MS account to Apple, expect big changes (differences)? Or are MS accounts expecting some big changes coming?  In fact, the whole article was more like an Apple ID guide with occasional mentions of MS accts. This whole article needs to be rewritten and fleshed out much more.
  • Please tell me Windows Central still have editors that can fact check and edit this BS article.