Quitting Family Sharing

Family Sharing is a great idea. Families, like mine, have growing children that will one day leave the nest and need iTunes accounts of their own. Moreover, Apple now has multiple device categories resulting in families hitting their head against the 10-device limit as the kids start growing up and iPhones, iPads, and Macs multiply. For a few years now, we’ve had to decide which of our devices get iTunes Match and which don’t. It’s quite frustrating that we can’t share music we’ve paid for across all our devices.

The promise behind Family Sharing was that it would get us away from that problem. In theory, we’d all be able to have our own accounts but still share purchases as long as all the accounts are on the same credit card. If at some point, one my children moves out or pays with her own credit card, she retains her library and we stop sharing. I am okay with that particularly if it lets me have my 2 Macs, iPad, and iPhone all work without running into above-mentioned DRM walls.

What I didn’t realize was the fine print. There are a few bits that are potential deal breakers:

  1. App Developers Must Opt In
    If an app developer doesn’t agree to make their app available via Family Sharing, it doesn’t work. Each family member will have to buy the app separately. We’ve been running family sharing for about 3 months and this hasn’t been a problem.

  2. In-App Purchases Are Not Included
    Even though we are sharing apps, we are not sharing in-app purchases. This hasn’t been a problem for my family either since few of us make in-app purchases in the same apps. I can see how it would be a problem for some that have expensive in-app purchases like, for instance, GPS apps. Moreover, as the App store increasingly becomes freemium, this may be a bigger problem in the future. Again, however, I don’t see his as a deal breaker. Creating great apps is time consuming and expensive. I’m okay if App developers make a little bit more if multiple members of my family rely on their work.

  3. iTunes Match Multiplied
    My entire family embraced iTunes Match. We like being able to wirelessly pull down playlists and make things happen. iTunes Match is not part of Family Sharing so if I, my wife, and my two daughters all want iTunes Match on our accounts, I’ll have to pay for it four times. This was very nearly a deal breaker for me. So far, I’ve paid for a second iTunes Match account for my wife but nobody else.

Taking the above three factors together, moving to Family Sharing is going to cost us a little. Three months ago I turned Family Sharing on for my wife and one of my daughters to see if this additional expense would be worth it. The transition has not been easy. Indeed, my family, that is normally game for just about any new nerdy thing I bring in, has rebelled. They’ve all told me how much they don’t like Family Sharing but not because of the above limitations, the problems are in execution. We’ve faced several challenges:

Losing Track of Tracks

My family has a large music library. We’ve been ripping CDs and buying iTunes music for a long time and we’ve all got diverse musical interests. Getting my wife and daughter’s iTunes accounts up to speed required me to copy our entire music library on to an external drive so they could selectively import artists they like on their individual Macs. Nobody really wants to do that and having got used to the convenience of using iTunes Match for a few years this exercise just made them surly. This new order also requires a lot more file management on their part, increased storage space, and increased management from me as family IT geek to make sure everything is working. Even given all that, they still inevitably find tracks they know are in my library that didn’t make it into their new library. Because many of these are not purchased through iTunes, they can’t access them short of me again physically moving them to their computers. Lots of time was sunk into this problem and after three months, it’s still an issue.

Playlist Issues

I’ve heard before of people having iTunes playlists dissapear but never experienced it myself. Since making this switch, everyone in my family (including me) have experienced playlists spontaneously poofing. It hasn’t happened now for several weeks but I fully expect this to continue.

App Update Hell

There is a bug with Family Sharing that prevents some users from updating apps. David Chartier explains this at length. My wife has been experiencing this problem since we started the experiment. Now she just gives me a look and hands me her phone with 38 updates to install. I go through and manually apply them only to find seven or eight that refuse to update for reasons that aren't entirely clear but definitely related to Family Sharing. It’s maddening.

As we turn the corner on a new year, I’ve decided Family Sharing is not ready for my family. I have to admit it is not entirely my decision. There is, generally, an uprising in my house over Family Sharing and I'm half-expecting my wife and kids to come at me with pitchforks over these challenges.

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.