When iOS 8 was announced, I was pleased to see the new Family Sharing features. Family sharing allows you to share purchases among family members, use a shared photo library and family calendar, and easily share your location so you can find each other on a map. Family sharing also allows for the creation of Apple ID’s for those under age thirteen.
These all seem like great features in theory. But how do they actually work in practice? Here are some of the pros and cons of Apple Family Sharing.
iOS Family Sharing Pros
Create an Apple ID for children under 13 tied to the parent account
Previously, kid’s devices either had to use a parent’s Apple ID, or you had to skirt the issue and fake a birthday when creating an account. Now, a new Apple ID can be created specifically for those under 13. These accounts are automatically set up to require the “Ask to Buy” feature (although you can turn this off if you’d like). So your 8-year old who wants to buy the latest greatest game will have to wait for your OK before he or she can download the app. They will even need approval for free apps; not just those that cost $$$.
Save Money: Buy an app/song/book once, and let the entire family use it
With family sharing, you can buy an app on your iPhone, and family members can then download the same app on their iPod or iPod touch. Same for music and books. So, if your daughter downloads a new song on her iPod, you can download it onto your iPhone. No need for you to purchase the same song for an additional $1.29. If your son downloads a new game on on his iPad, your daughter can download it onto her iPod. If the hubs downloads a new book in iBooks, you can read it too. Purchases made by family members are found on the “Purchased” tab within the App Store, or iTunes music store. You don’t have to download them; but they are available if you are interested.
Shared Family Calendar and Photo Library
Once Family Sharing is activated, a shared family calendar is automatically created, along with a shared photo library. Without any extra steps, you have a calendar that can be viewed from all family member’s devices. This is great for keeping the family schedule in sync! Add Bobby’s dentist appointment and Susie’s soccer practices to the calendar…no more excuses such as “I didn’t know I had practice today!”
iOS Family Sharing Cons
Not all functionality is available on devices using iOS 7
I found that you cannot access your family’s shared content unless you have iOS 8 installed. So if you are using an older device that cannot upgrade you won’t have the full functionality. I set up family sharing on an old iPhone, which I converted to a workable iPod touch using these great instructions from Bos Organization. I created and logged in using a “child” Apple ID (Chippy), so I could test this out. This device is still running IOS 7.
From the app store on the iOS 7 device, I could not see or access any apps that had been shared with the Family. I had downloaded a free game just for this purpose, but it did not show up on Chippy’s iOS7 device.
It does work the other way around though; on the iOS7 device I downloaded a free game (and had to ask to buy, so that does still work). Then from my “parent” device, I was able to see that the app had been downloaded by the child account, and I could download it if I’d like.
- Share purchases with family from iOS8 device to iOS7 – No.
- Share purchases with family from an iOS7 device to an iOS8 device – Yes.
Another feature that doesn’t function fully using iOS 7 is Find My Location. I was able to share my location from iMessage from the iOS8 device to the iOS 7 device, but could not share it the other way around.
Not all that intuitive
Many families have been using multiple Apple devices in the home prior to iOS 8. For those who already had several Apple ID’s established, your really have to think it through prior to switching over to family sharing. Who will be the family “organizer” or main account? If you had children under 13 using your account, will you now switch them over to their own Apple ID?
Personally I haven’t found the experience all that intuitive.
As an example, on the child device I purchased a song (Chippy has good taste in music!) and a request was sent to my phone and iPad.
Even though I clicked to approve the purchase, the song did not immediately download on Chippy’s device. I had to repeat the purchasing steps to download the song. After entering the password for Chippy’s Apple ID, the song finally downloaded. This seems like a lot of steps; it would be a lot easier if the song downloaded automatically upon the parental approval.
Can’t hide a purchase from family (from your device)
Let’s say you as the parent want to download a song with explicit lyrics (hey, we’re adults we can do that if we want…hello Justin Timberlake!) but you don’t want Junior to download the song. Well, you can hide the purchase but you have to log into iTunes on your computer to do so; you can’t hide a purchase directly from your device. This is another inconvenience because you might not remember to go back to your computer to hide the purchase. Those in the family sharing group will have access to download the song until you hide it. If they have already downloaded it, and then you hide it, they will still have the song/app on their device.
And while you can use Restriction settings on a child’s device, either to restrict by app rating or restrict explicit lyrics, even with the Restrictions set, those purchases may still appear until you hide them (thanks to Mary Kay at Yoursphere for mentioning that – read the full article linked below). While they can be seen, the restrictions will prevent them from actually downloading. But you might prefer them to not even be visible, and the only way to do that is to hide the purchase.
More about Family Sharing
To set up family sharing, start in Settings > iCloud > and click “Set Up Family Sharing“.
I’m not providing a full “How to set up Family Sharing” article since I have found detailed information readily available. I’m not an expert on this yet since we have not set it up for our family of three – two parents and a teenager – although we are considering it. So for the full overview I would recommend reading the following articles before you decide to set up Family Sharing on your devices.
https://gigaom.com/2014/10/04/thinking-about-switching-to-ios-8s-new-family-sharing-heres-what-you-need-to-know/ – What you need to know before you start
http://www.imore.com/family-sharing – A number of articles covering set up and all aspects of Family Sharing.
http://internet-safety.yoursphere.com/2014/11/apples-new-family-sharing-plan-and-the-frustration-with-it/ – Read before you set up family sharing; especially for a large family with children of various ages.
http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201322 – Hide and unhide purchases from iTunes
http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201081 – Leave Family Sharing – an important consideration to think about beforehand. There are limits on the number of family groups you can create within a year.
Have you set up family sharing? How has it gone so far? Leave a comment and let me know!