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How to Set Up Apple’s Family Sharing

David Pogue
Tech Critic
Yahoo Tech

Who says the big corporations are self-interested, greedy juggernauts? Thanks to the rise of the family sharing plan, you can save a lot of money by sharing apps, TV, movies, music, and books with up to five other family members (see How Family Sharing Can Save You a Ton of Money). Here’s how to turn on Apple’s Family Sharing feature.

Be warned: Apple’s setup process is long, as is Amazon’s. But the payoff is that it includes far more flexibility. Once you’ve turned on Family Sharing and invited your family members, here’s how your life will be different:

  • One credit card. Up to six of you can buy books, movies, apps, and music on your master credit card. When your kids try to buy stuff, a permission request pops up on your iPad, iPhone, or Mac. You have to approve each purchase.
  • Younger Appleheads. Within Family Sharing, you can now create Apple accounts for tiny tots; 13 is no longer the age minimum.
  • Shared everything. All of you get instant access to one another’s music, video, iBooks, and app purchases — without having to know one another’s Apple passwords.
  • Find one another. You can use your iPad to see where your kids are, and vice versa (with permission, of course).
  • Mutual photo album, calendar, and reminders. When you turn on Family Sharing, your Photos, Calendar, and Reminders apps each sprout a new category that’s preconfigured to permit access by everyone in your family.

Setup
The setup process means wading through a lot of screens, but at least you only have to do it once. You can turn on this feature either on the Mac (open System Preferences, then iCloud, then Set Up Family) or on the iPad/iPhone itself.

These instructions show what to do on the Mac, but the iPad/iPhone setup is similar. (On iOS, open Settings, and then iCloud, and then Set Up Family.)

1. Open System Preferences; click iCloud, and then Set Up Family. Read about the juicy features, and then click Continue. The next screen asks you to confirm that you are the sage adult, the organizer — the one with the power and the wisdom. And the credit card.

2. Click Continue. Unless it’s listing the wrong Apple ID account, in which case you can fix it now.

On successive screens, you read about the idea of shared Apple Store purchases; you’re shown the credit card Apple believes you want to use; you’re offered the chance to share your location with the others. Each time, read and click Continue or Confirm. Finally, you’re ready to introduce the software to your family.

3. Click the + button at lower left. Then:

If the kid has an iCloud account and is with you in person: Type in her name or email address. (Your child’s name must already be in your Contacts; if not, go add her first. By the way, you’re a terrible parent.)

You’re asked to confirm that you’re actually present with her by entering the security code for your credit card. When you click Continue, she can now enter her iCloud password on your Mac to complete her setup, as shown here at bottom.

Family Sharing setup screen

On the next screen, she has a couple of decisions to make (shown here at bottom).

First, the Purchases pop-up menu lets her specify her iCloud address — the one whose purchases she’ll be pooling with the family. (It’s usually the same address you just specified, but not always.)

Second, here she can turn on location sharing. In other words, the rest of the family will be able to see where she is, using Messages, Find My Mac, and the Find My Friends app on the iPhone or iPad.

Family Sharing setup screen

If the kid has an iCloud account but isn’t with you at the moment: Type in his email address. Click Send an Invitation.

Your little darling gets an email at that address. He must open it on his Apple gadget — the Mail app on the iPhone, or the Mail program on his Mac, for example.

When he hits View Invitation, he can either enter his iCloud name and password (if he has an iCloud account), or get an Apple ID (if he doesn’t).

Once he accepts the invitation, he can choose a picture to represent himself; tap Confirm to agree to be in your family; enter his iCloud password to share the stuff he’s bought from Apple; agree to Apple’s lawyers’ demands; and, finally, opt in to sharing his location with the rest of the family.

If the kid is under 13: Your kid doesn’t have an iCloud account, because until Family Sharing came along, you had to be over 13 to get an iCloud account. No longer!

Choose Create an Apple ID for a child who doesn’t have an account. Click Continue.

On the screen that follows, you’ll enter the kid’s name and birthdate. Make up a name and password for the new iCloud account, too. Decide whether you want the family to be able to see where the kid is at all times. Click Continue.

On the Parent Privacy Disclosure screen, enter the security code for your credit card yet again (to prove that you’re you, and not, for example, your naughty kid).

On the next screen, you choose and answer three security questions for this new iCloud account. Click Continue. Then there’s more legalese on two screens (click I agree, and then Agree).

You can repeat this cycle to add additional family members, up to a maximum of six. Their names and ages appear on the Family screen.

From here, you can click someone’s name to perform stunts like these:

  • Delete a family member. Man, you guys really don’t get along, do you? Anyway, click the button.
  • Turn Ask to Buy on or off. This option appears when you’ve selected a child’s name. If you decide your kid is responsible enough not to need your permission for each purchase, then you can turn this option off. (Note: If you turn off Ask to Buy for someone after she turns 18, you can’t turn it on again.)
  • Turn Parent/Guardian on or off. This option appears when you’ve selected an adult’s name. It gives Ask to Buy approval privileges to someone else besides you — your spouse, for example.
  • Turn “Allow [this person] to see your location” on or off. Do you want this person to be able to see where you are (by using Messages, Find My Mac, or Find My Friends)?

Once kids turn 13, by the way, Apple automatically gives them more control over their own lives. They can, for example, turn off Ask to Buy themselves, on their own Macs or phones. They can even express their disgust for you by leaving the Family Sharing group.

Life in Family Sharing
From now on, whenever one of your kids (for whom you’ve turned on Ask to Buy) tries to buy music, videos, apps, or books from Apple — even free items — he has to ask you. You’re notified about the purchase on your phone or Mac, and you can decline it or click Review to read about it on its store page. If it seems OK, you can tap Approve.

(If you don’t respond within 24 hours, the request expires. Your kid has to ask again.)

iPhone Ask Permission screen

Furthermore, each of you can see and download everything that everyone else has bought. To do that, open the appropriate program on your Mac, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch: App Store, iTunes, or iBooks. Click Purchased, and then tap the family member’s name (shown here at left), to see what she’s got; tap the little cloud button (shown at right) to download any of it yourself.

iPhone Family Sharing screens

(Note: Anything you buy, your kids will see. Keep that in mind when you download a book like Tough Love: Sending the Unruly Child to Military School.)

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