How iCloud works with a shared Apple ID

As I was watching the most recent Apple Keynote, it became clear that your Apple ID was going to become more and more important. Among it’s many uses, it’s used to interact with iCloud, to make purchases at the iTunes music and App Stores, and can even be used to log into a Mac with Screen Sharing if you don’t have a local account on the machine. As long as you have a secure password, it’s great to have everything so simplified with one login. However, there is one concern I had right away. 

In our house we have 8 iOS devices. I have an iPhone and iPad and an iPod Touch. My wife has an iPhone and an iPad. My two sons have an iPod Touch each. And the family shares an Apple TV. Our family purchase a lot of apps, music and movies from Apple. To keep things simple and usable for everyone, we use one Apple ID to make purchase so that each of us can enjoy the media. My guess is that there are a lot of homes out there similar to ours. 

This setup has worked great, but with the recent iCloud, I was worried that it wouldn’t be so simple anymore. I’ll want my own calendars, contacts, photo streams, etc. And so will my wife and sons. We can all setup our own Apple IDs, but it would mean we each would have to buy a copy of an app if we wanted the whole family to use it on their devices. Also, my wife and sons wouldn’t have access to past purchase. (Come on, you knew I’d be keeping the original Apple ID.)

I installed Lion on a partition of my iMac, and then iOS 5 on my iPod touch so I could find the best way for our family to implement. It turns out, there is a way. 

When you start a new device with iOS 5, you’ll see the following screen:

If you fill in your Apple ID here, it will set it up everywhere on the phone. That include iCloud, the app store, mail, iBookstore, etc. The key is to “Skip this step” and do each part manually. The downside is that you’ll start with just the basic install of apps, and all your past apps won’t be placed immediately. 

If you tap on Settings, you’ll see a place for “iCloud”. There, you will login with your personal iCloud Apple ID. (You can use one you have already, or create one there.) I have a address that I use for personal syncing, so I used that Apple ID. Once I logged in, I could choose all the settings I want to use with iCloud. 

Then further down in Settings, you’ll have an option of “Store.” In there, you’ll have a chance to login and make settings for you iTunes purchases. Here I used our family Apple ID that we use to purchase apps, movies and music. 

Once it is setup in this way, here are the results:

  • Calendars, contacts, photo streams, reminders, and bookmarks were all my own, personal information. They would sync to my test iPod and my Mac install running Lion. They did not sync to my family iOS Devices. (I took the iPod Touch from my son and installed there for testing also. He is 2 and was not happy, but I distracted him with a box of Nilla Wafers)
  • I purchased an app on my Lion Mac, and it was immediately downloaded to my Mac, my iPod Touch and my son’s iPod Touch. This could be a problem because I buy a lot more apps than my family. When we’re all up-to-date on software, I think I’ll leave mine for Auto-Downloads, but have my family manually downloading. I’m just glad they can still access past purchases and manually download apps I buy in the future

To sum it up, it is still possible to use iCloud for your personal stuff, but a shared Apple ID for you and your family. For me, the key was to skip the automated iCloud setup at the iOS welcome walk-through.