If you had asked me on Friday whether I was in a committed relationship, I’d have said yes. I’ve been married to the same man for over 11 years, and we’ve been together for 14. Together we have two children, a business, a house, and multiple bank accounts. Not to mention a shared personal website, a shared business website and shared Twitter and Facebook presences. Heck! Even our house has a website. Come to think of it, so does our Twitter relationship.
All in all, it’s hard to imagine how two people could be more thoroughly entangled than me and Rob Cottingham, in both oldfangled and newfangled ways. Or so I thought, until a weekend of software tinkering exposed a potential fault line in our relationship: iCloud.
iCloud is Apple’s new offering for multi-device people and households, promising a new ease and reliability for online storage and synchronization. Among its many features is the newfound ability to set up automatic downloads in iTunes, so that any apps, music, video or books you purchase on one device will automatically download to all your other Apple gadgets, too. If you’re in the land of the free, you also have access to iTunes Match, which will scan the music in your iTunes library (even the stuff you ripped yourself, instead of buying from iTunes) and make it available for download to your other iDevices.
All this is mostly great news for Apple users, particularly those of us with more devices than limbs. But it also raises a tough question: what to do with your family’s multiple Apple IDs?
Apple will tell you that each of you should maintain a unique ID, but a lot of folks have long chosen otherwise. If your family shares a music library, or you simply want to spare yourself the cost of buying 5 separate copies of Angry Birds, you may use a single account as a way to avoid repeat purchases of the same items. (Let’s be clear: I’m not speaking to the legalities or ethics of combining accounts, just the breadth of practices.)
There’s an ease-of-use consideration, too. Apple users have long griped about the problem of managing multiple IDs. It’s a problem I’ve had to grapple with myself: I have a primary Apple ID I use for app purchases, a second I use for renting family movies (so they don’t land on our business account), a US iTunes account (for stuff that isn’t available in Canada), and an account I use for buying ebook apps on behalf of Emily Carr. Rob has a Canadian iTunes account of his own (though we’ve long shared my address when buying often-costly iPad apps) as well as a second vestigial US account.
It’s a bit unwieldy at the best of times, since buying music or apps often requires switching between accounts and re-logging into the iTunes store, which is less than fun on a teensy weeny virtual iPhone keyboard. And it turns the job of updating apps into a real chore: a nonstop series of logins and logouts, which you are destined to repeat on device after device.
But the arrival of iCloud, iTunes Match and automatic downloads makes it newly tempting to consolidate your iTunes purchases — indeed, your entire family’s purchases — onto a single account. Sadly, there’s no way to combine pre-existing accounts, but it makes lots of sense to choose a single account (likely, the account that has made the most music or app purchases to date) and make that the only iTunes account you use for future purchases. Consolidate all your music files into a single iTunes library, login with your new canonical account, and then activate iTunes Match: all the music you’ve ripped yourself, and all the music you’ve purchased from iTunes through that account, will henceforth belong to your one iTunes account. (Though watermarking of tracks will likely mean that iTunes music purchased under other accounts will not be accepted by iTunes match, you will still be able to manually transfer those tracks between devices.)
On both cost-management and efficiency grounds, it makes lots of sense for Rob and me to consolidate our future iTunes purchases under a single account — likely the one in my name, since we’ve been using it to buy almost all our iPad apps, and because I’ve probably made more iTunes music purchases over the years. While we’re at it, Rob could start using that same account for App Store purchases on his Macbook so we can share desktop apps.
The big advantage of combining accounts, besides saving money on purchases we’d otherwise make twice, is the ease of managing our iTunes libraries. The easiest way of playing (and mixing) our latest respective iTunes purchases is by making them under a single iTunes account (even if we’re buying the tracks on our separate iPhones, iPads or MacBooks). That way, I can set our home media server to automatically download any music that is purchased under our shared account, giving us each convenient access to our complete music collection. (More on that setup coming soon.)
But automatic downloads have a Big Brotherish side, too. If Rob and I share an iCloud account and enable automatic downloads, my purchase of the latest Gaga remix will be instantly zapped to Rob. If Rob downloads a social media strategy book, its sudden appearance in my iBook library will make me wonder how I can possibly catch up with his reading. And if either of us downloads a new game in the middle of a workday — well, there will be some tough questions that night.
Marriage, kids and domain names are one thing, but sharing an instant window on one another’s music and app purchases? Are we really ready for that kind of intimacy? And if we are, what the hell are we going to talk about over dinner once “hey, guess which app I tried out today!” is off the table?
If you’re still not ready to go all the way with your sweetie, you can still hedge your bets while getting that iCloudy goodness. Some strategies for combining iTunes accounts without losing your individuality:
- Change your AppleID. If you’ve decided to consolidate under a single account, but the account is linked to an email address that belongs to just one of you, you can make that account feel like yours (plural) rather than yours (singular). Login to the Apple ID site with your soon-to-be-main account by choosing “Manage my ID”, and then edit the email address that is associated with the account so that it points to an account that you can both access. If you already share a domain name, use an address like “firstname.lastname@example.org” as your new AppleID (make sure you can actually access email under that address); if not, create a new gmail or other free email account that you can both use. (If you were using that account to sync email or other data across devices, you may want to create a new AppleID with that old email address once you’re done, so you can continue using that address for non-iTunes data syncing).
- Turn off automatic downloads. If you want the cost savings of a joint account, but feel weird about getting an Apple mediated play-by-play of your sweetie’s purchases, you can make an agreement to turn off automatic downloads. (Coming soon to a wedding near you: “…and forsaking all others, and turning off automatic downloads…”) This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario: you might leave automatic downloads turned on for a single shared computer, but turned off on your respective iDevices.
- Differentiate between content types. Maybe you want to share apps, but not music, books or videos. Maybe you want to share music, but not apps. Since automatic downloads let you choose which kinds of content each device will automatically download, you and your sweetie can decide to share an account for some purposes but not others. Share an account for apps, if that’s what you want to avoid double-purchasing, and then use separate IDs for your respective music purchases. Tell your devices to enable automatic downloads for music only, and the tracks you buy on your iPhone will magically show up on your computer — but only your computer, and not your sweetie’s.
Even if you’re sharing a single AppleID for all your iTunes purchases, you should still keep separate AppleIDs. With iCloud, your AppleID will be used for things like syncing your calendar or contacts, which you almost certainly want to keep disentangled from your spouse’s data. Knowing that you can set up separate Apple/iCloud IDs for those purposes should free you up to explore the romantic possibilities of sharing iTunes purchases.
And if even that doesn’t prepare you for making the ultimate commitment — well, you can always try renewing your vows.