Apple’s Time Flies event last week might as well have been called All in the Family. And I’m not just talking about the new watches. Alongside the new Apple Watch and iPad hardware, Apple unveiled two initiatives designed to connect families and keep them within the Apple ecosystem.
The first is Family Setup. A feature strictly for LTE Apple Watches (Series 3 and later), it brings Apple’s wearable ever closer to full independence. Instead of needing to have every watch paired to a specific iPhone to work, you’ll be able to set up watches for family members without iPhones and they’ll still have full calling, texting, and app independence.
Family Setup essentially turns every Apple Watch into a mini iPhone with its own account. It’s geared toward “children and older family members,” but there’s no stopping an Android-using spouse from using it, too. For kids, parents will be able to set limits on contacts, apps, and features as well as get alerts when they’re not home when they should be.
It’s a fantastic feature that opens up the Apple Watch to a whole new demographic. Most kids don’t have Apple Watches because they require an iPhone, but parents are always looking for ways to use technology to keep tabs on their little ones, whether it’s a GPS tracker or an old iPhone. An Apple Watch SE with LTE for $329 isn’t exactly inexpensive, but it’s cheaper than a refurbished iPhone and much better than a GPS tracker. And if they have an Apple Card, you can get in the door for about $14 a month with zero percent APR over 24 months.
Apple also unveiled Apple Cash Family, which lets parents securely send money to their kids to spend on their watch using Apple Pay. On the surface, it’s a simple extension of Apple’s peer-to-peer payment system, but it’s built with families in mind. Parents will be able to see what your kids buy and where they buy it and get instant notifications.
And then there’s Apple One. While Apple does offer a $15-a-month plan for individual users, the real savings comes with the Premier level, which offers every Apple service for up to six people, including 2TB of iCloud storage for $30 a month. But it’s more than just a way to boost subscribers to News+ and its new Fitness+ services. With Apple One, Apple is making it extremely easy and cost-effective to bring everyone into its tent.
If you’re currently using two or more of Apple’s services and augmenting your iCloud storage, it pays to take the leap to Premier, which is by design. Basically, Apple wants you and your whole family to seamless switch from service to service without missing a beat, and I’m guessing that very few families do that for more than Music now.
The missing member of the family
Add it all up, and you’ve got Apple’s strongest push to create an Apple household since Family Sharing was launched way back in 2014. Within a year, more families than ever will be locked into Apple’s hardware and software ecosystem.
But while it might seem like Apple’s family push is all buttoned up, there’s still one thing it’s missing: multiple user profiles on the iPad. It’s pretty baffling at this point, but even more so after the Time Flies event, because it would have been a perfect time to introduce it.
Apple launched the iPad Air just minutes after unveiling Family Setup and Apple One. Apple could have built on those two announcements with the launch of Family Login to let kids and parents have their own iPad accounts. Since kids would be getting their own Apple accounts for their Apple Watch, it’s pretty much a perfect pairing.
But the real advantage for multiple users or profiles is services. With the Apple One bundle, kids of all ages can take advantage of Apple Music and Apple Arcade for the first time, but most of them are going to be using older hardware. Apple still forces parents to pass along hand-me-down iPads to their kids rather than letting them add them as a user to their newer tablets.
If Apple is concerned about the feature eating into device sales, then Apple could just limit it to kids. Even Amazon lets you set up multiple kid profiles on its Kindles and those are way cheaper than any iPad. When iPadOS split from iOS last year, I thought for sure multiple users were on the way, and as I watched the Time Flies event, I would have placed a halftime bet that multiple users would be a surprise announcement alongside the iPad Air introduction.
But alas, I would have been wrong. As it stands, the Apple family has everything they need to connect and go except a family tablet to gather around. Maybe we’ll get it by the time Apple decides to update the iPad mini to look like the Air.
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Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.