iTunes 101: Multiple Devices, One 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.

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