Thinking about switching to iOS 8’s new Family Sharing? Here’s what you need to know

Families have found different ways to manage their iTunes purchases over the years, but the best way required you to set everything up properly from the beginning. Starting off on the wrong foot meant that purchases were spread across multiple accounts, and not shared.

Making maters worse was the fact that there was no way to consolidate accounts or even transfer ownership of content from one account to another. Once a purchase was made, it was part of that iTunes account and that account only.

Here is how it was done. You had to:

  • Create separate Apple ID for each family member. Use this Apple ID to create individualized iCloud accounts. For each device, use this ID and the primary iCloud account on the device.
  • Select one Apple ID (or create a separate new one) to use exclusively with iTunes. Use this account as the iTunes & App Store account across all devices (configured separately from the primary iCloud account on the device).
  • To control spending, set up parental controls on children’s devices to block all iTunes purchases and updates.
  • Select one Apple ID (or create a separate new one) to use as the family calendar account. Configure this account as a secondary iCloud account across all devices.
  • Create an iCloud Shared Photo Stream and add all of your family members to the share. Allow family members to add photos to the share.
  • Invite Family members to be your ‘friend’ using the Find My Friends” app.

iTunes Family Sharing with iOS 8

But iOS 8 Family Sharing makes the this task of sharing purchases across six different iCloud accounts much more manageable with a much easier set up process.

Here’s how the new system works:

  • Create separate Apple ID for each family member. Use this Apple ID to create individualized iCloud accounts. Use each account as the primary iCloud account on each family members device (same as step one above).
  • Choose which family member will be the family organizer. From within the Settings app on that family members device, tap on iCloud > Family Sharing > Get Started.
  • Sign into the Apple ID that will be used for iTunes and App Store purchases. You may be prompted to validate your accounts payment options.
  • Choose whether or not you’d like to share your location with your family.
  • Tap on “Add Family Member…” to start adding up to six additional iCloud accounts to your family share.

So, what is missing?

There are still some differences between the two different tactics. While it is true that developers have to agree to the new licensing terms, and that there is a new field in the iTunes App Store indicating whether or not the app is eligible for Family Share, I have yet to encounter an app that is not eligible for Family Sharing.  If you do happen to run into a situation where you are prevented from downloading an app that has been purchased on your Family Share plan, simply try logging off and back on to your iTunes account and see if that fixes the issue.

You may also run into a situation where you find that you cannot enable the new “Ask to Buy” feature. Ask to Buy is enabled by default for iCloud users under the age of thirteen. You may have created an Apple ID for your children and set the date of birth to your own. If such was the case, you will need to log on to appleid.apple.com and correctly set the date of birth for each of your children, as the “Ask to Buy” feature will not be there for anyone over the age of 13.

Something else to consider is the limitation on how often you can switch from one family account to another. In the old style of sharing an iTunes account, computers and devices could switch between different accounts every ninety days. With the new iTunes Family Share, each iCloud account can only be associated with one Family Share at a time, and can switch only twice in a calendar year.

One thing that the new iTunes Family Share is not currently able to share is an iTunes Match subscription. If you happen to have iTunes Match, it will be limited to the one account that established it. Additionally, not all in-app purchases or newsstand subscriptions will carry through to every family members account. If sharing access to such features is important to you, the you may want to hold on to your current setup a little while longer.

Benefits of switching to a Family Share

When Apple introduced iOS 7, the one main features that was taken away from family sharing was the ability to track all of your family’s devices from one iCloud account. iOS 7 made the “Find My iPhone” setting exclusive to the primary iCloud account on the device. With iOS 6 and earlier (as well as on any OS X device), you could set up the “Find My iPhone” setting on any iCloud account on the device. Now with iOS 8, you can track all of your family’s devices from one account without having to use the iCloud web interface from a desktop computer. This is certainly a nice to have feature, but may not be worth switching everything around.

What makes it worth switching is the fact that the children on the account can start building up their own account with their own apps. This may not be important for any child under the age of thirteen, but will become important once your child grows up and wants to manage their own purchases. With the old style of sharing an iTunes account across multiple devices within a family, there was no way to break away from the family and start of with a library of your own apps, music, books and movies. Now there is, family members can start building up their library before moving out of the family.