iTunes Store for families

A recent survy has shown that households with 2, 3, or 4 Apple devices are almost as common as households with only a single Apple device. With so many households running multiple Apple devices you’d think that Apple would make some sort of a “family account” so that your music, books and movies would be accessible to everyone, just like your CDs, paperbacks and DVDs. Sadly, that’s not quite how Apple has it set up, but they do have a workaround that might help.

Note: when I refer to “purchases” here I also mean free items in the App Store and iTunes Store. That’s how Apple refers to them.

An Apple ID is the login you use for everything Apple – mostly acessing iCloud data and iTunes purchases. Fortunately, Apple allows you to use one Apple ID for your iCloud data (contacts, email, calendars, backups etc.), and a different one for your iTunes purchases/iTunes Match and App Store purchases.

There are a few major caveats, however:

  • There is no way to merge accounts. In other words if you and your significant other have both already purchased lots of paid apps, music, TV shows and movies, you’ll have to decide whose account to use going forward and you may have to repurchase apps and media in the newly shared account to fill in the gaps. This doesn’t apply to music if you’re using iTunes Match. There have been hints that Apple is working on allowing merges at some point, but they’ve been silent on it lately.
  • There is no way to separate accounts. If for some reason in the future you decide not to share an account for purchases anymore, there is no way to divide app purchases. It’s all or nothing.
  • Everyone will need to have the password for the shared account if they are to make purchases or download purchased items. Currently you also need the password to update apps, but no password will be required in iOS 6 set to release this fall.
  • Each person will be able to see all purchases.
  • On each iOS device you have to use the same account for the App Store and iTunes Store. On Mac they can be different.

If you’re okay with the above, here’s some great step-by-step instruction on how to complete the task.

What they don’t cover in the article is that if you are using iTunes Match you can effectively merge your music purchases. You will want to designate one computer to be the family’s master iTunes library, and copy songs from all computers into that library. iTunes Match doesn’t care if you are the original purchaser or not, as long as iTunes can play it. Though you may have to authorize iTunes to play DRM’d music if it was purchsed before 2010 – just play the DRM-protected songs and it will ask you for the account password. If you don’t know where to begin here is an article explaining several different options. Once your iTunes Match computer has all of the family’s music and it syncs to the Match servers, everyone in the family can see the whole collection on all their devices.