MonthOctober 2014

iCloud “Family Sharing”: Great Feature Unless You Use iTunes Match

Family Sharing provides users with a way to share purchases from their iCloud/iTunes account with up to five other people. Additionally, this feature enables you to create iCloud accounts for children, and to manage the purchases and content available to those accounts.

iTunes has been around a lot longer than this feature, and so for years now, people have had to a different means to share app purchases across multiple users. The most common solution is pretty straightforward; create one iTunes account that is shared by multiple people. Apple supports this approach, too: on any Mac or iOS device, you can use one account for your iCloud stuff and a separate one for your iTunes stuff.

Pitfalls of a Shared iTunes Account

Some things associated with a shared iTunes account are problematic. For instance, podcast syncing is associated with your iTunes account, so if multiple people sharing an iTunes account have wildldy different podcast preferences, they either need to live without podcast syncing across devices, or accept a certain amount of data storage on their devices that will go to some podcast subscriptions that you have no interest in.

So, when I originally heard about Family Sharing, my impression was that this was Apple attempting to create a real feature around sharing purchases without needing to directly share an iTunes account, and maybe pull in some nice new functionality as well. Having looked into this some more, my verdict is “hit and miss”.

Family Sharing: Hits

Family Sharing includes a new layer of parental controls that was sorely missing in iTunes. My kids don’t have tablets or mobile phones of their own yet, but the time will come, and when it does, I will be sent an e-mail and will be asked to approve / disapprove any specific purchase that they try to make.

But the biggest feature of Family Sharing is, of course, the opportunity to share purchases across multiple accounts while still preserving the separation of those accounts. This solves the podcast syncing issue that I mentioned because under this model, each person uses their own distinct iTunes account and only purchased content is available to Family Sharing group participants.

Family Sharing: Misses

Unfortunately, the implementation is not perfect, and the largest gap would have to be the lack of support for iTunes Match.

For those who don’t know, the iTunes Match service enables an iTunes account to sync their music across all of their devices even if the music wasn’t originally purchased in iTunes. This is a huge, awesome feature that was introduced three years ago.

However, even if you use an iTunes Match-enabled account as the Organizer role in a Family Sharing configuration, the songs that you added to iTunes Match from other sources are not available to the Family Sharing members. For people who started building their music collections before the internet, or bought DRM-free music from an online store other than iTunes, this is a huge setback.

The whole point of sharing an iTunes account is to share content, but Apple is clearly drawing the line at content expressly purchased through iTunes. There are some other limitations as well, but for me, the lack of iTunes Match support practically guts Family Sharing as a feature.

My Take

I’m a few years out from buying any of my kids their own mobile device, so there isn’t any immediate benefit to me of the Parental Controls that Family Sharing provides. Nonetheless, I am happy that these controls exist now and that I have this option when I need it.

Meanwhile, Apple’s policy around nerfing iTunes Match for Family Sharing completely undermines the value of Family Sharing for adult users. If my wife and I used separate iTunes accounts that were linked through Family Sharing, we would actually be significantly limiting the amount of shared content available to one of those accounts. Thanks but no thanks.

Hopefully Apple will sort this out, because half of the functionality offered by Family Sharing is going to be pretty useful to me down the road. In the meantime my wife and I will continue to share an iTunes account. I think I can live without cross-device Podcast syncing 🙂

Where to Post? Finding Yourself Amongst Ello, Facebook, and the Glut of Social Media

Ello is a social platform that has been the subject of some buzz recently. Either by design or by accident, Ello is squarely positioned as the anti-Facebook, which immediately places it in a similar space in people’s minds. That’s a great deal for Ello, because feature-wise they have a long way to go before the can really throw down: no mobile app, no OAuth, no API. Ello claims to be built on a Freemium model that will sustain the company without them resorting to selling user info; but only time will tell.

Social Network Options Are Ever-Increasing

The bigger issue for folks like myself, folks who like things neat and tidy and simple, is that this is Yet Another Social Network, in a space where there are already tons of players. I doubt this situation will change; nobody really wants One Site to Rule Them All. But as a content creator, I find myself asking the same question with everything that I write: where do I post this?

For me, the answer seems to be divided along content / audience lines. I think that my tech audience is on G+ and my “human interest” audience is on Facebook. Twitter blurs the lines a bit; it is a popular platform for boosting people’s work agendas (including my own), but following anyone who only posts about work gets pretty dull. The jury’s out on Ello, but 24 hours into my Ello account and it is still pretty much a wasteland.

In Some Cases, Maybe It’s Function Over Forum

Blogging’s a little different for me. My blog is hosted on Tumblr, and by all accounts, I am way too old to be here. But in a medium where content and audiences are finding natural divisions across different services, as a content generator I am completely hooked on Tumblr’s blogging tools.

I can take a pass here, in one respect, because Tumblr supports CNAME aliasing. What does that mean? It means that I can map “blog.emichron.com” to my Tumblr account. So you aren’t completely jumping on board with me and the millennials in the Tumblr-verse just by reading this post 🙂 But let’s dig into this a bit, because to me, the fact that Tumblr offers this kind of rebranding is fascinating.

What if Social Networks were About People Instead of Services?

I know that there’s a few links at the top of my blog that advertise Tumblr loud and proud, so this isn’t exactly a white-label service. But imagine what an individual person’s web presence would be like if more social media platforms enabled this kind of sponsored content hosting?

You could follow me by subscribing to my blog, which happens to be on Tumblr. You could follow your Aunt Bea who is crazy addicted to Farmville and so her posts at blog.AuntBeaSuperFarmer.com happen to come from Facebook. The social networks get their cake (you know, data about you and everyone you interact with), but you get a bit of that cake as well.

I would like to see this idea take root: that you could pick a social medium on how it suits you, and reach out beyond the boundaries of that social network to engage with people as your own brand: yourself.