Questions Regarding Family Sharing

With Apple Music coming Tuesday, and its Family Plan requiring the use of Family Sharing, I recently posted about my enabling of Family Sharing and how it went pretty well overall. I did run into a few things after the fact that I didn't see initially, had me seeing red, and I wanted to explain how I fixed them. Also, talking with some readers it seems after trying to set it up they ran into issues that I didn't have an answer for at the time. After some research and questioning online of people I know, I have a few solutions and explanations.

iTunes and App Store Errors

For those who have been sharing an Apple ID between users, when setting up Family Sharing on other devices that are NOT the Organizer's device, it would be best to log out of the iTunes/App Store in Settings>>iTunes & App Store BEFORE setting up Family Sharing.

The reason for this is if you are already logged in with YOUR ID on THEIR device in this section, as many who have been sharing purchases had been doing, when you setup Family Sharing it automatically sets their sharing of "purchases" to this account. YOUR account. Everything will appear to work in the iCloud part of Family Sharing, that is, until you go to purchases or try to share apps and media. Then you'll get an error that says something like, "This iTunes account is tied to a different Family Sharing iCloud account" or "This Apple ID is not setup for Family Sharing". If you log out before hand and set things up correctly, you won't see these errors. If you are getting them after you've already set things up...here is the fix that has worked for a few people I've tested with.

The fix is two parts. First, go to this other device (you have to use their device) that is not the Organizers. Go to Settings>>iTunes & App Store, and log the account set there out. Then log in with this person's iCloud ID that you're using with Family Sharing. Second, go to Settings>>iCloud>>Family and choose the member who this device belongs to. When you tap their account it will bring up a small settings section. At the top will be their picture and Apple ID, and below is "Family Purchases". Tap this ID and change it to their own Apple ID, the same ID you added in step one. Again, these are the individual ID's, NOT the ID you have been making purchases from before moving to Family Sharing.

This sets the individual account to share purchases it makes from its own account with the rest of the family. Which is the whole point of using Family Sharing.

As a tip. Before trying to see these purchases from other devices, try downloading a free app. It seems that if no purchases have ever been made (and why would there have been) from this Apple ID, then it has nothing to share. So downloading a free app seems to kick it into action.

Videos, Music, and iBooks Apps are Empty

With Apple Music hitting Tuesday I'm not overly concerned with the Music app being empty (on devices my kids use) after enabling Family Sharing. I am however annoyed by the Videos and iBooks apps being empty. It seems I'm not alone, and have heard this same thing from a few readers as well.

Here's the deal. For those who were using a single iTunes/App Store ID for purchases and simply logging this ID in on personal devices as well as those for a spouse or child, in Music, Videos, and iBooks, all purchases were shown in the app, even if they were not on the device. They were shown to be available to download or stream. Simple. Sensible.

Well, now that you're using Family Sharing, these apps don't look the same on everyone's devices. They are not looking for that old ID with all those purchases, because everyone has their own ID setup, which "shares" purchases. So when you open these three apps it's looking for these media items associated with this specific ID. Which again, if this is a new ID for say a child, there wouldn't be any, and all those you made with YOUR ID before joining Family Sharing, the one you were all sharing and logging into together, won't show up here (except for the Organizer).

That doesn't mean this person can't access these items. They can. It just means that for now, they don't automatically populate these apps if they're not on device and show they're stored in the cloud. Instead, users have to go to the "Purchased" section of iBooks or iTunes or App Store, and tap on the family member who did buy these. In most cases, the Organizer. They can then easily download these items to listen, read, or watch.

I'll be the first to admit this isn't an ideal setup. I can't think of any reason these apps couldn't combine all movie purchases tied to this Family Sharing and show them in Videos. And the same for Music or iBooks. Again, I think Apple Music fixes some of this for the Music app, but the other two are still going to be a little more work for anyone NOT the Organizer.

Kids Are listed As Adults

One of the benefits of using Family Sharing with your kids is more than just sharing purchases with them. It's giving them the ability to use the App Store and iTunes, but with the option to ask permission to buy instead of having to know your password.

The issue for many who have kids with devices prior to Family Sharing being an actual thing, is that it's now possible to create Apple ID's for children under 13, and it wasn't before. So many parents created one and used a fake birthday to give these children access to their own iMessage and FaceTime accounts. Because who wants to share messages? Ugh. By doing so, now with Family Sharing enabled, they are listed as adults, and the "Ask To Buy" feature isn't available for adults, only kids.

There is a fix, simply go to www.appleid.apple.com and log in with your child's iCloud ID and change their birthday. This will make them the correct age, giving you the option to enable "Ask To Buy".

Why Are Purchases My Kids Make Missing From My Purchase History?

It's true. While purchases your kids, or anyone else in your "family" for that matter, make are available for the rest of the family, and paid for by you, the Organizer, they are still THEIRS.

That means a few things.

It means that while you paid for them, they are tied to their account. You and other members can download and watch, listen, or read these items, but, they are not yours. They will not be listed under YOUR past purchases, they are under whatever account it was bought from (again even though YOU paid for it). If this person leaves the Family group, like when they move out for example or start their own family, these purchases go with them and are no longer available to the rest of the old Family group.

This is one of those things that I get the choice Apple made here, but also wish we could make a our own choice. I want my kids to be able to ask to buy apps and games and such, but, I'd also like those to purchases tied to my own ID, the Organizer ID, the one paying for it. For now, that's not an option, and if you're using Family Sharing it's nice to know the limits and how it's intended to be used. The intention is that if my wife buys a movie, it's hers. With Family Sharing she can let any of us watch it, but if we were to divorce and she leaves our Family Sharing group, that movie would go with her. She owns it. We essentially were just allowed to borrow it from her since she was a member of our "family".

Members Of My Family Can't Update Apps!

This is a common question I've gotten, almost immediatly after someone I know sets up Family Sharing. It appears the issue is with what account apps on the device currently were downloaded from, and that the account they're trying to update through, are different.

So. The simplest and most annoying solution is to simply delete your apps. Delete them all. Then go to the App Store and download them again. Do not go through "Purchased" section unless the app was one that cost money to buy. The issue for whatever reason, really stems from the free apps. So for free apps just download them as you would normally from the App Store, and then anything that was paid for, download from the "Purchased" section (Keep in mind, "In-App Purchases" are not shareable and are not available to other users.) This should kick things into the right accounts and allow all users to update their apps as normal. Once again, this whole process is much easier when starting from a clean reset. That's however just not an option for some and this fix seems to work for those I've helped through it.


Even with these few things I have run into, some from my own experience and others from people asking questions, I still think Family Sharing is a great tool. Many of the problems I've seen stem from older ways of thinking or doing things to make sharing amongst a family work. It's just that things simply don't function the same way in Family Sharing, and require a re-thinking and understanding of what is expected.

That said, I have also seen how flawless this can work. Especially for people who have never tried to share amongst each other before and are setting up new or reset devices. It's all in how you look at it, and for new users, it makes perfect sense and is simple. Log in, setup family, invite, and buy stuff. That's it. For older users who were using workarounds it can be confusing and requires a little elbow grease. I'm no expert on this subject. I've read things about Family Sharing incorrectly, misunderstood how others were going to work, and made mistakes setting up along the way. Through it though, I think I've gained a better grasp as to how Apple is expecting this to work for families. Hopefully they keep adding options and additions to it over time, like Apple tends to do.