The Most Important Thing Apple Announced on Monday Was Family

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Apple Family Sharing

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Last Monday, Apple let us in on their plans for the future of, amongst other things, iOS (8), and Mac OS X (Yosemite). Tim Cook and friends detailed a long list of new features—most of which will not be available until this fall—to a salivating audience of developers and fans at the 2014 WWDC in San Francisco.

Most of the coverage from the press so far has been about cool things like the new graphics engine in iOS, the new programing language for both Mac and iOS, improvements to messaging, a new health app, and how the iCloud might actually become something useful. All good news to these ears.

There were more than a few cheers from the crowd for many of the announcements, but what really caught my eye was when Craig Federighi introduced the new Family Sharing features.This was a huge relief for me.

Let me explain.

Once upon a time Apple had Mobile Me, which allowed you to have a single master account, and then sub-accounts that your family could use individually. It was great, because everybody could easily share all the media we purchased (movies, music, or applications) without having to worry about which account bought it. Then, inexplicably, when iCloud came along, all of those accounts were split into separate partitioned accounts, and we could no longer (easily) share our media. So, If I bought the latest “Weird Al” Yankovich song with my account, if my kids wanted to have it on their iPhone, they would have to buy it themselves. Or if my daughter bought the new Pixar flick on her account, we couldn’t watch it on our AppleTV, which was synched to the original family account. There were some workarounds, but none of them particularly convenient or even reliable.

So, my family was buying the same apps, music, and movies, sometimes more than twice. We couldn’t share, and more than once, we got in the 90 day waiting period to switch back to our primary accounts if we tried to access media on the main family account. It was not very user friendly.

Now, Family Sharing brings all that back and more. We can have up to six “family” members sharing the same media. But wait, there’s more!

  • Share purchases from iTunes, iBooks, and the App Store without sharing accounts. Everyone on the Family Sharing can see everybody else’s purchases and download them like their own.
  • It automatically sets up a family photo stream where you can share photos, videos, and comments. This provides a private family social network.
  • Share family calendars that everyone can edit. Admittedly, this wasn’t a huge problem, as you could already do that pretty easily by sharing personal calendars, but it’s still nice to put this into neutral territory.
  • See where everyone in your family is (or at least their iPhone or iPad) on the map in realtime. This one might be a bit stalkerish, but you can turn it on and off easily.
  • Approve your kids’ purchases. Likely due to recent trouble Apple has gotten in to with minors making purchases on the App Store and in the iTunes store, you can now approve purchases made by your credit card on other accounts. If a minor tries to make a purchase, the parent gets an alert to approve the purchase.

There’s a lot of other nice bells and whistles coming from Apple, but here’s hoping they don’t forget the family again.

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