In June last year Apple announced iOS version 8 with a range of updates and new features. One of them was Family Sharing. Released in September last year iOS8 received the normal hype and equal portions of concern from people struggling to deal with the new features. The concern dies down fast as people learn to live with it, yet some of the best features still go unnoticed. Family Sharing deserves a lot more credit.
Family Sharing – Perfect for Families with iOS
One of the reasons for that low profile could be the demographic of the world of technology reporters. Young, or rather old – that’s the general gist, it’s a smaller portion who (like me) have very young families. My kids are eight, four and three years old – so the idea of App Store education is front of my mind.
Normally, we only hear about the huge bills run up by kids on their family or parent’s devices. They’re clicking away on in-app purchases and parents are freaking out with the huge bills.
Each and every time this happens, the fault – hard as it is for the parents to admit – lays with the parents. Lack of knowledge and understanding means you don’t realise just what happens when you type your password into the device.
Common problems as I see them are:
- Giving your kids the password
- Typing the password in yourself without knowing more purchases can be made if done within 15 mins – unless you turn that setting off
- Having purchased something yourself, then handing the kids your device within that same 15 minute window.
Education is the key, all those problems can be avoided by changing settings and enabling strong restrictions on devices the kids use.
The other problem in families has been the need to share a single iTunes account to ensure that you can all own the same apps without buying them multiple times, to share your music purchases and so on.
A massive downside to that is with something like iMessage you can actually easily (and by accident) enable other people’s phone numbers on your phone and send messages from other people’s devices and see messages they receive.
Bottom line – it’s not ideal.
Lets come back to Family Sharing.
The idea is really very simple. Each member of your family can have an iTunes account, and for parents, you can have control over what your kids purchase from their device.
On the kids devices, you go into Settings, then iCloud. Look for Family there and if you have young kids who do not yet have an iTunes account you can step through a process and create one for them.
Your child will get an icloud.com address as a result, and you will need to set up the same set of password reset questions for each and every child.
Each account needs a strong password which you do share with the child (assuming they are old enough to use it!) – this quite possibly gives them their first taste of security with a password of their own.
It’s more than just restricting purchases
Family Sharing is about education. It’s about conversations.
When your child wants to buy an app, or a song, or an in-app purchase – they have to put in their password.
As normal, the user is shown the cost of the item they wish to buy:
Then they have to confirm that they want to “Ask” for permission to buy the item.
The real genius here is that at that very moment – on the parent’s device – a notification occurs showing the details of what your child wants to buy.
No matter where you are, in the next room, at work, or on the other side of the world – you’ll get that request and can “Buy” or “Decline”.
Either way, a notification is then sent to the child confirming the outcome.
What’s critical there is that it forces a conversation. Your kids will come to you to ask for it. Or they will wait, and when you see them you can talk to them about what they are wanting.
My best example thus far is Jackson wanting Real Racing 2. This is $6.49. When he requested it, I didn’t decline. I waited until I got home from work that night.
Then I went in to see him and explained that Real Racing 3 which he already has – is awesome, and better than Real Racing 2. Spending that money would be a waste.
Likewise he wanted to buy a car in Real Racing 3 – Instead of approving that, I took the time to explain to him that he can earn the car buy racing more, practicing more and winning races.
In both cases – he was totally fine with that.
What Family Sharing does is takes the stress of in-app purchases or App Store account access in your family away from the parents. It’s a whole new world.
Music and Movies
The good news is that you can browse the purchased content within your family. Click on any family member to see their purchases and download them to your own device. So the cost effectiveness of the single iTunes account is maintained.
There is just one downside that I can see thus far. iCloud storage space. On our primary iTunes account (mine) which for years we’ve had many many devices on – I’ve got additional storage for our device backups.
With Family Sharing it appears that storage cannot be shared. I’d like to think that’s a simple thing to fix at Apple and could come in a future update.
For that to be my only gripe – we’re onto a winner.
Seriously, if you’ve got kids – of any age, Family Sharing is something you should sit down and implement. For teenagers you might not require the parental purchase permission, yet they can have their own iTunes account and still share the purchases of the rest of the family.
You might argue a feature like this should have existed from the very start of “app purchasing” – but let’s be real – five years ago people didn’t think this market would be so big.
Apple have created a process that not only avoids unnecessary charges on your account, but initiates a conversation at home which will in the end educate children on how to spend responsibly, and truly understand the value of each and every purchase, even if its just a couple of dollars.