Q: Our family shares an iTunes Store account, and each of us has our own iCloud account. In the past, this setup has allowed us to buy an app once for the family. Similarly, in-app purchases are available to all family members, usually through a “restore purchases” feature within the app. Today I bought an in-app purchase to remove ads from Weatherbug. The app does not have a “Restore Purchases” feature to use on other family members’ phones, but there is an option to save and restore your ad-free purchase to iCloud. However, this does not seem to be linked to the iTunes Store account we share, but rather the personal iCloud account that we do not share. In a case like this, is there a way, outside of the app, to apply in-app purchases made using our shared iTunes Store account?
A: You’re correct that the account being used to save the ad-free purchase is your iCloud account, which is unique on each device. WeatherBug in this case is actually just using the standard iCloud Drive feature to save your subscription key in iCloud in the same way that other apps like Pages and Numbers store documents.
Unfortunately, WeatherBug uses an annual subscription for ad-free support, rather than a one-time purchase, so this is one of these tricky issues when it comes to in-app purchases. There are actually four different types of in-app purchases, and of these, only “non-consumable” purchases can offer a “Restore Purchases” option. Developers that choose to implement “non-renewing subscriptions,” as WeatherBug has, are responsible for their own restoration process. In WeatherBug’s case, they’ve chosen to implement iCloud as the means of doing this, since they don’t provide any other kind of cloud-based service for you to sign on with; it’s more common for apps that provide non-renewing subscriptions to associate your subscription with an account on the company’s own servers.
If WeatherBug offered ad-free support as a one-time purchase, even without a “Restore Purchases” option, you’d simply need to try the purchase again and would receive a notice that you had already bought it and could re-download it for free. Unfortunately, since it’s a non-renewing subscription, attempting to purchase it from another device will simply offer you an opportunity to pay again to extend the subscription for another year. Technically, this will work if you know that you want to renew it again next year, but there’s a good chance this may not be what you want.
Unfortunately, the only other way around this is to have your other family members log in on their devices using your iCloud account. Note that they don’t have to do this permanently—once the subscription information is downloaded from iCloud into the app, it will remain activated in ad-free mode and your other family members can then return to using their own iCloud accounts. Note that doing this will result in all iCloud-related information being temporarily removed from each family member’s device, however this data will be resynced from iCloud back onto their device once they log back into their own personal iCloud account. Note that depending on what your individual family members use iCloud for, it may be feasible to use a common, shared “primary” iCloud account and then individual secondary accounts. Features such as Photos, iCloud Drive, and iCloud Backups can only be configured on the primary iCloud account on each device. However, secondary accounts can have independent Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Bookmarks, and Notes settings. See Sharing iTunes & iCloud Accounts in a Family for more information.
Note that the iOS 8 Family Sharing feature won’t help you here, either. In fact, Family Sharing is somewhat worse than simply sharing a single iTunes Store account, as separate accounts under Family Sharing can’t share any in-app purchases at all, so staying with your single, shared iTunes Store account is very likely your best option for now.