Apple introduced Family Sharing way back in iOS 8, but we wouldn’t be surprised if you ignored it so far. It allows you to share iCloud storage and purchases, but that comes with some caveats that have made it undesirable for many. The biggest problem is that, if you share iTunes and App Store purchases, then every purchase from every family member are always charged to the “organizer” account—family members literally have no way to make any purchases on their own.
While Apple should definitely address that shortcoming, there are now far more reasons to enable Family Sharing than even a year ago. Apple’s new subscription services—Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Arcade—all support Family Sharing at no additional cost. Apple Music can be shared for an extra $5 per month, and new features like Screen Time and Apple TV Channels can be shared, too.
Even if you don’t want to share purchases and force every App and iTunes purchase to go through a single Organizer account, you can share these other subscriptions and features. And that benefit makes the value of these subscriptions an absolute steal.
Here’s how to get Family Sharing set up on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Setting up Family Sharing on iPhone or iPad
You set up Family Sharing the same way on an iPhone or an iPad.
1. Go to Settings, and tap on your Apple ID account at the top.
2. Tap Set Up Family Sharing (if you already have a family set up, it will just say Family Sharing and list members).
3. Tap Get Started and follow the on-screen instructions. You’ll send a special iMessage to the people you invite. They’ll need to tap on it to accept.
Setting up Family Sharing on Mac
Setting up Family Sharing on the Mac is just as simple, but the interface is a little different.
1. Open System Preferences (if it’s not in your Dock, look in the Apple menu on the menu bar).
2. Click Family Sharing in the upper right of the System Preferences window.
3. You’ll be asked to confirm your Apple ID and then prompted for family members to invite.
Adding Family members
You don’t need to add all your family members right when you first set up Family Sharing. You can add or remove members at any time, up to five members (plus the Organizer).
On iPhone or iPad, open Settings and tap on your Apple ID, then choose Family Sharing. Tap Add Family Member and then enter their name or email address.
On the Mac, open System Preferences and then click on Family Sharing. Make sure Family is selected in the left sidebar, and choose Add Family Member.
Family members you add will get an iMessage inviting them to the Family. They must tap on it and opt to join before Family Sharing will work for them—many people miss this step!
Choosing which features to share
Once you have added family members, you should choose which features you want to share. The current options are as follows:
Purchase Sharing: Media you buy on iTunes, Books, and most App Store purchases (but not in-app purchases!)
iCloud Storage: If you have the 200GB or 2TB storage plan, you can share it with your family.
Location Sharing: Family members share location or the location of their devices. You can always just share location to an individual in the Find My app.
Screen Time: If you have a Child account in your family, you can set screen limits and view reports for it.
Apple Music: You need a family plan on Apple Music to share with your family (it costs $15 per month, rather than $10 for an individual account).
Apple Arcade: Apple’s gaming subscription service includes Family Sharing at no cost.
Apple News+: If you have the premium magazine and newspaper subscription in the News app, you can share it with your family at no cost.
There are three important things to mention about these sharing options.
First, if you enable Purchase Sharing, your family members will have access to all the iTunes movies and TV and music you buy, as well as books bought in the Books app and most of the apps you buy in the App Store. But it will not include in-app purchases or app subscriptions. If you enable it, the Organizer of your family will be charged for any such purchases made by anyone in your family, even if it can’t be shared. You’re effectively turning on a single, always-active family-wide billing account. You don’t need to have Purchase Sharing enabled to share any of the other things, though.
Second, when you share iCloud storage, your family members cannot see each other’s content stored in the cloud. It’s as if you each have your own separate iCloud storage; the data you all use just counts against the same 200GB or 2TB limit.
Finally, sharing services like Apple Music or Apple TV Channels does not mean you’re going to see each other’s content or playlists. Each family member gets access to those services as if they had their own subscription, with their own play history, recommendations, and so on. So don’t worry about Family Sharing messing up your Up Next selections in the TV app or your music suggestions in Apple Music.
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I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.