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Transitioning purchased apps to a new iTunes account
By Jesse Hollington | 04.29.13

Q: I have a question related to iCloud backups and application data. My family shares an iTunes store account which we have used to buy apps. My credit card is in this account, and only I have the password. Each family member has their own iCloud account for backups and all else. My oldest son will be going to college in the fall, and wants to be responsible for his own phone and app store account. If he deletes apps we bought on the family account, and buys them using his own iCloud account, will his existing app data be restored?

- Chris

A: Unfortunately, this can be a bit complicated. Although application data—in iCloud/iTunes backups or on an iOS device—is not tied to the iTunes Store account that was used to purchase a given app, the applications themselves of course are.

Deleting an app from your iPhone will remove all of that application’s data, and reinstalling it does not restore any app data from iCloud. This is the case regardless of the iTunes Store or iCloud accounts involved. iCloud backups are only restored during a full restore of the device, and in fact this is the only way to access the iCloud Restore option.

There’s really no easy way to replace existing apps on an iOS device without deleting them—and their data—and then reinstalling them fresh. For apps that store their information in cloud-based services, such as Dropbox, Evernote, or any app that uses iCloud for storage, this may not be a big problem, as there isn’t any local data to worry about other than perhaps some configuration settings. For other apps that store everything locally, however, this could be a problem.

Your son won’t be able to repurchase apps directly on his iPhone, since the App Store knows they’re already installed and replaces the purchasing options with an “Open” button, even when using a different iTunes Store account.

He can, however, repurchase the apps using iTunes on his Mac or PC. If the apps aren’t already on his computer, it’s simply a matter of purchasing them through iTunes normally. If the apps purchased with your account are loaded into his iTunes library, he will need to delete them from there before he can purchase them again, but this will not affect any data, since the apps will remain on the iPhone.

These newly purchased versions will be downloaded to the local iTunes library, and will then be available to be re-synced onto the iPhone over a USB connection. Even in this case, however, these new purchases will not replace the apps that are already on his iPhone until an update for a given app comes in, since iTunes doesn’t bother to recopy information that it thinks is already present on a device. Apps already installed will show a “Remove” button in iTunes, and removing the apps via iTunes and trying to reinstall them from there would also result in any data in the apps being deleted, in the same way as deleting them directly on the device would

Keep in mind that with iOS 6, it may be not be as necessary as you think for your son to repurchase apps that were originally purchased under your account. For example, as of iOS 6 your iTunes Store password is no longer required to download and install updates for apps that are already on a user’s device. In fact, the only time your iTunes Store account password would be needed for these apps would be if your son were restoring his device from scratch using iCloud. In this case, he would be prompted for the password(s) for whatever account(s) were used to install apps that would have been included in those backups. On the other hand, if he were restoring from an iTunes backup, or simply had those apps already in his own iTunes library, they can be synced over USB directly onto his iPhone without any passwords being required.

Likewise, if he’s repurchased the apps himself and they’re in his iTunes library, those versions will be used should he need to restore his device. In fact, a full restore is about the only way you can actually transition over completely to using the apps purchased with his account, but as explained above there’s probably no need to take such a drastic step unless his device needs to be restored in the future anyway, at which point he can use the versions of the apps that he has repurchased himself.

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