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Summary:

Managing a mix of iPads, iPods, iPhones, Apple TVs, MacBooks, etc., all from the same iTunes Account can a be a rewarding, but tricky affair. Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up multiple Apple products with a single iTunes Account.

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Whether you’re using an old iPhone as a GPS, or one of your children is using an old device as a hand-me-down, you may want to manage multiple iOS devices from one and only one iTunes Account.  This includes, but is not limited to, managing a mix of iPads, iPods, iPhones, Apple TVs, MacBooks, etc., all from the same iTunes Account.  Here are some things to consider when setting up multiple Apple products with a single iTunes Account.

Account Authorization Limits

You may have noticed that iTunes is limited to authorizing only five computers with each iTunes account. This means that you can only authorize five separate Mac or PC computers or user accounts to playback protected iTunes content or use Home Sharing using a single iTunes Account.  For example, if you have created five different user accounts on the same computer, and have authorized iTunes for each user account on that one computer with the same iTunes Account, then you have reached your maximum number of authorizations.  This is also true if you have used that one iTunes Account on the same user account on five different computers. Basically, each iTunes Account can authorize up to a maximum of five instances of iTunes. You can deauthorize computers or accounts at any time following the instructions found at Apple’s support website. Luckily, though, once you have iTunes configured with a single  iTunes Account, there does not appear to be a limit to the number of iPods, iPhones, and iPads one can sync to a single iTunes library.

Computer Authorizations

Losing Some Apps, Gaining Others After Syncing

If you’re only using one iTunes account across multiple devices, you may notice some strange behavior when you sync your iOS devices: apps seem to disappear and appear at random with each sync.  It is likely that each iOS device serves a different purpose, or is even being used by a different person.  This leads to each user adding and removing apps that suit their needs and the purpose of the device.  What is happening is that apps that were purchased on one device are being lost, while apps purchased on a different devices are being added.  This situation is easily remedied by transferring purchases before each sync, and disabling the automatic synchronizing of new apps on each iOS device.  The “Automatically Sync New Apps” option in the apps tab of your iOS device info screen in iTunes applies to any app in your  iTunes library that has been added to your iTunes library since your last sync. If you are managing several iOS devices from one account, it is a good idea to disable this feature.

Automatically Sync New Apps

Controlling Purchases With One Account

With this configuration, each iOS device is capable of making independent purchases.  In fact, there are three layers of where the iTunes Account is configured.  The first is the iTunes installation you use to sync your device.  The second is the iTunes Account configured on the device itself.  This is configured in the on-device Settings app under Store (for iTunes Store).  In fact, there are several techniques you could use in the way you configure parental controls on each device that can prevent or enable each device from making purchases.  These purchasing techniques apply to the iTunes Music, Book and App Store.  Changing which iTunes Account is used on the device to be something other than the iTunes Account you sync with may cause problems when the sync operation transfers purchases from the device to the iTunes installation on your Mac or PC as well as the Digital Rights Management (DRM) on the device itself.  So plan on using the same iTunes Account on both your computer and your device to avoid those problems.

Device Settings Restrictions

Syncing Media Files From One iTunes Library

There are two paths you can take with your iOS device. Either manually manage your iTunes Library when syncing, or set up user-specific Playlists and sync only those playlists.  This feature has been in place for iPods since before the iPhone was ever announced.  You may even want to consider creating a separate playlist folder for each iOS device you sync to.

Sync Selected Playlists

Accessing Media with iTunes Home Sharing

Another layer of iTunes media management has to do with remote playback of your iTunes library, which is accessible on multiple devices via Home Sharing.  With the iOS 4.3 update, now all of your iOS devices can access your iTunes Library remotely on the same Wi-Fi network.  What is interesting here is that the iTunes Account you set up for Home Sharing does not have to be the same iTunes Account you sync your device to.  This is configured in the Settings App under iPod in the Home Sharing section.  Unfortunately, your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad cannot add multiple Home Sharing accounts like you can do with the Apple TV.  This does get a little confusing if you also use the Remote App from Apple that’s capable of configuring multiple iTunes Accounts to access and control other iOS devices like the Apple TV. To access libraries on any device using Home Sharing, you’ll need to leave iTunes open and running somewhere on your local Wi-Fi network.

Conclusion

Managing up to five computers with one iTunes Account and a seemingly unlimited number of iOS devices including the Apple TV is definitely possible.  Apple has done a great job by exposing some settings like automatic syncing in iTunes as well as on-device restrictions to help take control of both apps and media on each device individually while still using the same account.  Apple is still in the process of refining what you can and can’t do with your iTunes account, so stay tuned for more updates as the company rolls out new software updates.

  1. I heard that an app store app can only be activated on five iOS devices. Is that true?

    If so is there a way to get back some of those authorizations like deactivating iTunes?

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    1. Chris,
      You may deactivate the devices via iTunes.

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    2. @Chris – I don’t think that’s true. I currently have 7 iOS devices that sync with my library and all of them are authorized on a single iTunes account. The rule has been 5 computers and an unlimited number of devices that sync with those 5 computers.

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      1. Weldon is correct.

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  2. ‘Apple is still in the process of refining what you can and can’t do with your iTunes account, so stay tuned for more updates as the company rolls out new software updates.’
    – sounds like you work for them.

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  3. David Finnamore Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    Very helpful article for navigating these somewhat muddy waters. Thanks!

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  4. If I understand correctly, all applies to many different devices and one itunes account. How do I manage multiple devices and multiple users? What is the best way. I have mac pro and macbook pro + ipod do not have problem sync. But I ordered new Ipad for my wife she has her own mobile me account + itunes. Does it mean we all have to purchase apps 2x? Soon I will buy 2 ipods for children How do I manage all that? If I buy an app, how many times can I share it? it si bit confusing.

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    1. You cannot share any Apps between multiple iTunes Accounts. If you register, configure, and sync each iOS device to a separate iTunes Account each, then you will need to purchase the same Apps over and over again and again. Keep in mind that each iOS device will sync to one and only one iTunes install (by design, it can be hacked). So if each user of each iOS device do not live in the same household, that can become difficult to manage when backing up, updating software, and syncing both apps and media.

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      1. you wrote ” ach iOS device will sync to one and only one iTunes install (by design, it can be hacked)”

        Hacked? How?

        I want to use it in one household. I purchased all devices. Ipods, computers, ipad. I tried to add mine ipod to a laptop but it says, it will delete everything before it can allow sync?

        im lost. Soon I will have new iphone, that will be interesting :D

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    2. @Mike – A point of clarification here: you can only sync apps between an iPhone and one iTunes library. However, that iTunes library can be authorized with multiple iTunes accounts.

      To answer your question about how to manage a household of iOS devices… we chose to buy everything with one account. My kids kinda resent that they can’t buy things on their own, but I kinda like the chance to review what music and apps they have.

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      1. so if I will setup itunes account on my wife’s computer, with mine user name. Will it sync also all devices if connected? I do not have Ipad yet, so I will register it on my macpro, and can I still use it on Imac ?

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  5. How do I get all my iPhone apps to work on the same iTunes sign in password? Every time I upgrade my password, it still hangs onto legacy login/pw relative to prior purchases.

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    1. Are you absolutely sure that you have one and only one iTunes account? I have multiple Apple IDs, some Apple iDs have an iTunes account associated with them, others do not. In the beginning, I never meant to have multiple Apple IDs, it just sort of happened. A good indicator is if you start receiving multiple messages from Apple that have the same content in them. It’s not an echo, it’s a sign you have more than one Apple ID registered with Apple for email distributions.

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  6. This is really easy to understand. One iPad/iPhone/iPod can sync to ONE computer and one account on that computer. E.g. my iPhone syncs with my iMac. It will not sync with my MacBook unless I erase it and initialize it with the MacBook. My wife syncs her iPhone with the iMac as well. My iPad syncs to that iMac. My kids sync their iPods to that same Mac.

    We all use the same iTunes account (I’m the only one with the password). iTunes allows us to sync our two iPhones, my iPad, and the kids iPods to the same iMac. That way we all share the same music and the same Macs.

    To prevent piracy, you can NOT sync your iPhone/iPad/iPod to multiple computers.

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    1. You can actually sync one device with multiple computers as long as you are syncing different types of content. For a long time, I synced my contacts and calendar with one computer and then synced my music with a second computer.

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      1. Weldon, that’s correct. I assumed we were mostly talking about syncing content. Good writing.

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  7. I just want to let all the itunes costumers,and clients
    That itunes kept my refund money how can i put this
    I bought some music videos for my ipod touch ok nine videos got stuck i went to apple they deleted every thing out then i owed them $6:36 i gave them permision to take it out they did but the rest of my money was never released to my visa card ok now 3 months later and still no money they ripe me off for the rest of my money here it is 5/28/11 & no money.

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  8. Hey Geoffrey, Do you actually use two devices regularly on iTunes? It’s a nightmare…you have the choice to NEVER sync your apps or to have the exact same apps on both devices…meaning you can NEVER backup or restore your devices properly or you are stuck with both having the same thing…iTunes is a horrible program that we’re all stuck with. Their devices are great, love my iPhone and iPad but suggesting ‘Apple has done a great job’ is exceptionally misleading to your audience!!!

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  9. iTunes 101: Multiple Devices, One iTunes Account http://t.co/FWwBcIxj

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  10. @MiriamAhern Tell you in a mo – this article is better http://t.co/S2nCnVNs

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