When iOS 8 was announced back in June of last year, the new feature I was most excited about was Family Sharing. This feature said it would allow family members to share purchases, photos, a calendar and even their locations. This sounded perfect for my family, and I couldn’t wait to try it. I even recorded an audio blog entry about it at the time.
Up until this point we’d had a setup that worked. The geekdaddy and I have our own iTunes accounts, and made our own purchases. If one of us wanted to install something the other one had bought we would log into their iTunes account on our device, download the item (almost always an app), and then switch back to our own account. The kids have always been set up to use my iTunes account, although they have their own iCloud accounts so that I can set up their own limited lists of contacts, and so that they can Facetime each other (which always seems to cause much merriment). I have never allowed the kids to know my iTunes password – if they want an app they ask me, I decide if we will buy it, and if so I will purchase and download the app for them. It’s the way we’ve been set up since first getting multiple iPads in the house, and it works.
But the more I heard about family sharing, the more I liked it. I would be able to set the kids up with their own iTunes store accounts, but they’d still be able to access my purchases. I could configure it so that if they went into the app store and tried to buy something it would notify me and ask for my permission. This would enable me to start giving the geekdaughter a little bit of freedom in the app store whilst still retaining control of the purse strings.
When iOS 8 was released last September, I set up family sharing. It was easy to set up – I started from my iPad, and in Settings / iCloud I pressed the “Set Up Family Sharing” option. It was very easy to set up my iTunes account became the master account, and I then invited the rest of the family via their iCloud email addresses. Soon we were a family of 4, and could all access each other’s purchases. Great.
We had a few teething troubles. The functionality to ask for permission when a child is buying an app seemed to be flakey. Given that I was still buying the apps myself I was inevitably standing with my iPhone in one hand and the child’s iPad next to me, and it seemed that often the request for permission wouldn’t come through at all, and when it did if I granted permission that never seemed to get back to the child device. So I carried on generally buying apps on my account and then downloading them to the kids’ devices.
Then the bigger problems started. First of all I noticed that the apps weren’t updating on the kids’ iPads. Despite having “auto update” switched on, I would notice that a number of apps were still waiting to update. And if I went into the App Store and pressed “Update All” I would then be prompted for the child’s password for each app that needed to update. Given that there were often 20 or 30 apps requiring update, this was a real pain. It appears that the “auto update” function only works for apps purchased by the iCloud account on the device, not all family accounts. If this had been the only problem, I could probably have lived with it, but there was a bigger issue.
That issue relates to In-App purchases. Now, I don’t generally allow my kids to play apps that have in-app purchases, but there are times when I do. For example apps that require a single in-app purchase to unlock full functionality or remove adverts, or apps that have an ongoing subscription like Hopster or Farfaria. In my previous setup I would make the in-app purchase on my iCloud account on my device, and all I had to do was “Restore Purchases” on the kids’ devices to unlock the same functionality. Not so with family sharing. If I wanted an in-app purchase to be available on one of the kids’ devices, I had to make that purchase on their account. So if both my kids wanted a Hopster subscription on their iPads, I would have to pay twice. For a while we lived with this, and only put subscriptions like that on one of their iPads rather than both, but eventually this all got too much for me. It was when I noticed myself unwilling to make an in-app purchase to remove ads from a game my son was playing because I didn’t want to make the same purchase again on my or my daughter’s accounts that I realised I was going to have to take action.
Thankfully it is as easy to remove Family Sharing as it is to set it up. All you need to do is access the Family Sharing menu in the iCloud section of the Settings app on the master account and tap “DELETE FAMILY”. All accounts are disconnected immediately.
So that is what I’ve done. We’re back to the original setup where the kids and I are all using the same iTunes store account. I can pay once and have the content available on all our devices. I no longer need to make duplicate in-app purchases. Everything is working as it should. We’ve only had one problem since removing family sharing, and that is that any apps downloaded from a family account whilst the family sharing set up was active give the error message “This app is no longer shared with you”. Now, because I kept the purchase of apps on my iTunes account even when we were family sharing, all I need to do when this happens is view the app in the App Store and then re-download it. But if you’ve got your purchases more spread out across the family accounts this might be more of an inconvenience to you.
I would go back to family sharing if Apple sort out the updates and the in-app purchases issues. But until then I’m sticking with my set-up that works.