The iTunes Store Family Sharing Debacle

With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple introduced Family Sharing, a way to allow multiple users in a family to share the same iTunes Store account. This way, they can easily get access to all the music, movies, TV shows and apps that anyone in the family buys.

Theoretically. In practice, it’s not so smooth.

Here’s how Apple says it works:

“Family Sharing makes it easy for up to six people in your family to share each other’s iTunes, iBooks, and App Store purchases without sharing accounts. Pay for family purchases with the same credit card and approve kids’ spending right from a parent’s device. And share photos, a family calendar, and more to help keep everyone connected.”

Family sharing

I have not even tried setting up Family Sharing, even for testing, because of the way it works. Once a device is added to a family group, your device may be in limbo. As Apple says, “After you leave a family, you can join or set up a new one. However you can only switch to a different family group once per year.”

But another problem is that not all content can be shared, notably, “Apps that aren’t shareable.”

David Chartier has pointed this out, especially as far as free apps are concerned. He points out that there are issues downloading apps that are shared, but even more so with apps that don’t allow sharing. Because this feature is an opt-in feature for developers. Frankly, if the feature doesn’t work for all the content of a given type, it’s not worth using. Imagine if iTunes Match only worked with music from certain record labels; that’s what’s happening here with apps.

David Sparks is quitting family sharing. He highlights the fact that app developers must opt in, that in-app purchases are not included, and that iTunes Match doesn’t get shared. He concludes:

“Family Sharing is not ready for the Sparks family. I’ve spent way too much time trying to make this all work and this weekend I’m officially throwing in the towel on Family Sharing until it gets better. Now I am about to sit down at the dinner table to figure out which 10 of our devices get the full benefit of our shared account. Let the negotiations begin.”

And the same is the case for Jason Snell, who says ” Family Sharing is a good idea, but between the limitations and the bugs, it’s making my family agitate for a return to sharing a single Apple ID.”

Yet again, Apple comes up with a good idea, but has a very poor implementation. It reminds me of iTunes Match, which still has the same problems (not matching tracks, not updating tracks and playlists, and a limited number of tracks) several years after it was introduced. I don’t know why Apple is so incompetent at making things like this work, but it doesn’t tempt me at all to try any new features with so many hoops to jump through.