Multiple Apple IDs just leads to multiple problems

Why can't Apple help its users manage and consolidate Apple ID accounts?

my devices

I’d like to start with a brief test. All those who have more than one Apple ID, please raise your hands. Now look around you; if you’re in a group of people who use Apple products, you’ll see a lot of hands in the air. And if you’re not, well, you can lower your hand now...

If you’ve been using Apple products for a while, you may have multiple Apple IDs. One might be a user name, and another an email address. Or you may have set up one Apple ID for the iTunes and App Stores and another for your personal data, such as your email and other iCloud services. (And this is fine; Apple even explains how to do it.)

Some people may have set up a second Apple ID because, for some reason, they couldn’t access the account with the first one, and simply gave up. Or they used an email address they no longer use, and created a new Apple ID with a more current address. In either of these cases, they cannot download apps or media purchased with the older Apple ID.

Back in 2013, I wrote about problems with Apple IDs. One of the issues I mentioned was the merging of multiple Apple IDs, and I pointed out that Tim Cook had replied to a user by email, back in 2011, that Apple was working on this. Five years later, there is still no way to merge Apple IDs. Is it too hard to set up a website where people can enter multiple Apple IDs and passwords and have them linked into one?

There is a problem if you use more than one Apple ID for purchases. If you want to go back to grab a movie you bought with an older Apple ID, you may find yourself in a pickle. When you enter an Apple ID and password on a device, that device becomes “associated” with a given account. And if you want to switch back, you may not be able to. As Apple explains:

“Depending on when you associated your device with your Apple ID, you might need to wait up to 90 days to associate the device with another Apple ID.”

And good luck sorting out all your authorized devices...

Here’s another common situation. Alice and Bob set up house together. Alice has one Apple ID, and Bob, who Alice convinced to switch from Android and Windows, has another. They share a MacBook Pro on which they buy movies, apps, and more. But they maintain separate user accounts, to keep their documents separate, so they each have access to their own email and contacts, and so they can each sync their iPhones using iTunes.

Each user has their own iTunes Library, and after Alice set up the new MacBook, and created a user account for Bob, he logged into that account and signed into the iTunes Store. He downloaded some apps, and then logged out. When Alice logged into her account, she found that she could not access any iTunes or App Store purchases, and was told that she needed to wait 90 days. Because the device got associated with Bob’s Apple ID when he signed in. Even though they have separate user accounts on the Mac, and separate iTunes libraries, it’s the device that counts, not the user accounts.

Apple’s solution to this problem is Family Sharing, which is confusing, “comes with its own risks,” leads to problems with iCloud Photo Library, and with other Apple services.

But for Alice and Bob, it’s too late; they’re stuck waiting 90 days, unable to access all their purchases. Or they give up and buy what they need all over again. And perhaps that’s what Apple really wants.

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