May 24, 2014 • alan

Like many families, we have accumulated several iPhones and iPods over the years. My wife and I have new iPhones, and we upgrade every so often, and our kids inherit our older phones. So we’ve encountered that age-old question: how should we manage the Apple IDs for all of these devices?

At first, we followed the simple approach — just leave the older devices associated with our Apple IDs. It makes some things easier. For example, the kids don’t have to re-buy the games that you bought over the last few years.

But when you share Apple IDs for all services, things get weird quickly. I started seeing my daughter’s iMessage conversations on my phone. If anyone in the family changed an account setting on any of the apps that use Apple IDs, we’d get a flood of notifications about the change, and the change would usually propagate to the other devices against our intentions. It felt like a very unstable equilibrium. Just as I’d get everything working right, something would upset the balance.

The thing that finally persuaded me to look at alternative setups was when I tried to set up “Find My Friends” so we could see where the others were. It did not want to let me track my daughter, because it thought she and I were the same user.

So I read a few discussions and articles about the different strategies for setting up Apple IDs for a family. They explained how Apple IDs work, and showed how to manage them. Some highlights:


Everyone in our family now has a unique email address and their own Apple ID. My Apple ID is associated with a credit card, but theirs are just simple accounts. These can easily be set up at http://appleid.apple.com/.

Technically, since the kids are young, I have an Apple ID that they use. The contact info is mine. But the point is that each person has a unique identifier for their devices, and each one is tied to a unique email address.

The key to making this work is this sometimes-overlooked fact about how the Apple ecosystem works: a single device can use different Apple IDs for different purposes.

So in our family:

  • iTunes Store – use Daddy’s ID
  • iMessage – use your own
  • FaceTime – use your own
  • iCloud* – use your own
  • Game Center – use your own

Note that iCloud is a biggie. It includes Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Safari, Find My iPhone, Documents and Data, Photo Stream and Backups.

I’m not really sure how the iCloud Mail and Calendar stuff works, because we don’t use them. I host my own mail and calendar services on a Linux server, and that stuff works great with the iPhones. We have separate email addresses on several domains. And we have some shared calendars and some individual calendars.

Our family’s new setup puts some sanity back in the system. I know that my iMessages will only show up on my phone and Mac. I can call my kids using FaceTime without it getting confused, trying to call myself. I see my contacts, and my kids don’t. But we each get to use the games and other apps that we have bought as a family. And we can each use “Find my Friends” to keep track of where everyone is.


I’m going to dive just a little deeper here, because I discovered something else in the transition that might help someone else.

Since I run my own mail server, I tend to use very specialized addresses for any kind of service that I sign up for. That way, I can sort all of my bills into a “bills” folder that I don’t have to see until it’s time to pay bills. Or if one vendor starts sending me too much junk, I can remove that one email address/alias and that stuff disappears forever.

Following this strategy, our Apple IDs are actually specially-made alias addresses in the form itunes-(name)@(ourdomain).com. But since we want to use our real email addresses for stuff like FaceTime and iMessage, we need to associate our real email addresses with these new Apple IDs. On that appleid.apple.com site, there’s a little form where you can associate all of your other email addresses to the Apple ID.

However, since we were migrating from a single Apple ID, I had to remove the kids’ preferred email addresses from my Apple ID before it would let me add them to their Apple IDs. This is very easily done on the appleid.apple.com site. However, if you just try to add the email address to the new Apple ID directly using the phone menus, it just sits there with a spinny star saying “verifying”, and it never actually sends the verification email.

So my advice is to manage your Apple IDs using the web site, http://appleid.apple.com/.