Can’t change iTunes Apple ID to iCloud e-mail address

Q: The email account that is linked to my iTunes account is about to be shut off when we change our ISP. Is there any way I can re-link our iTunes account to an existing iCloud email address? It would seem simple as Apple says that you can just change your email address to a new one by editing your account details, but it seems to refuse to let me enter my iCloud address.

I don’t want to have to sign up to a new email service just to get a new address for my iTunes account—especially when I have a perfectly good iCloud account already. I’m not interested in setting up a free Gmail account or anything like that. It seems perfectly reasonable to want to use an Apple email account with an Apple service, but I can’t work out how to do it and Apple Support don’t seem to understand what I am asking.

They say that my iCloud email is an Apple ID, so why can’t I use that for iTunes?

– Steve

A: You are absolutely correct that this seems perfectly reasonable and logical, but unfortunately despite many similar complaints over the years, this remains a limitation due to the way that Apple has chosen to set up Apple IDs. The statement that your iCloud e-mail is an Apple ID is correct, but the problem is that it is a different Apple ID from the one you’ve been using for your iTunes account. Essentially you have two different and completely functional Apple IDs—your original one that you have been using for iTunes and the new one you created for your iCloud account.

An Apple ID is simply the user name and password used for a wide variety of Apple services, including the iTunes Store, iCloud, FaceTime, iMessage, Game Center, online Apple Store purchases, product registration, and even Apple Developer accounts. You can put all of this information under a single Apple ID, or have separate Apple IDs for the different services.

The crux of the problem is that Apple still has not provided any way to merge accounts. You can’t change your old iTunes Store account to your iCloud e-mail address because another account with that name already exists, and you can’t merge both of those accounts because Apple has no way to make this happen.

Further, Apple now insists that Apple IDs take the form of e-mail addresses, meaning that whatever you change your Apple ID to must be an e-mail address, rather than a simple username.

Sadly, this basically leaves you with only two options, neither of which are ideal.

The obvious option is to set up a new e-mail address somewhere else. You could use whatever e-mail address your new ISP provides you with, or setup a free webmail account somewhere. You’ve stated that you don’t want to do this, but the unfortunate part is that if you want to keep your old Apple ID there is no other choice. The bit of good news is that you don’t actually have to use this address for anything other than the name you sign into iTunes with.

E-mails will be sent to this address by Apple, but most webmail services such as Gmail will allow you to easily setup your account to forward everything to another account, so you shouldn’t even have to worry about checking it. So basically, you can create the account, set up forwarding, and then forget about using it as anything other than a username to log in with.

Alternatively, you could choose to simply transition to using your iCloud account as your iTunes Store account. It is already setup to do this, and all you would need to do is add any necessary payment information the first time you use it with iTunes. The problem with this approach is that your purchase history is still tied to your original iTunes Store account, and can’t be migrated to a new account any more than Apple can merge accounts in the first place.

For accessing content already in your iTunes library this is not a problem, since you can authorize your computer, iPods, and iOS devices for more than one iTunes Store account, and content from both will work seamlessly. This becomes a bit more complicated if you’re dealing with a lot of apps, since you’ll need to sign in to the old account in order to receive app updates. Free apps, however, could be easily re-downloaded under the new account to mitigate some of this.

This will likely also be an unworkable solution if you’re using iTunes in the Cloud features to download previous purchases or subscribe to iTunes Match. Due to Apple’s 90-day restriction on switching accounts, you wouldn’t be able to go back and forth in order to re-download previous purchases, and if you’ve already subscribed to iTunes Match, you’d be stuck using the original account at least until your subscription is up and you can re-subscribe using the new one.

Ultimately, this second approach still doesn’t really solve your need to change your Apple ID to a different e-mail address, but it would eventually minimize your use of that Apple ID, depending on how much content you’ve purchased with it in the past. If we’re talking about a handful of purchased items and you’re not really relying on iTunes in the Cloud features, leaving the old account largely behind may not be a bad approach.

Keep in mind also that you only need to use a me.com or icloud.com Apple ID for an iCloud account if you also want to use it for e-mail. Should you transition to another e-mail service at some point, you could easily turn your primary iTunes Store account into an iCloud account with that other e-mail address. All of your iCloud features except for e-mail and notes are available with any Apple ID, and you can set this up simply by signing into iCloud with the Apple ID that you use for your iTunes account. This provides a possible third option depending on how invested you are in your iCloud e-mail address.

Unfortunately, there’s no reason to expect that Apple is going to fix this problem any time soon. Apple has explicitly stated in several support documents that Apple IDs cannot be merged (see Frequently asked questions about Apple ID), and there have been numerous questions and complaints raised about this since even before iCloud came along, with no real evidence that Apple is working to solve this problem.

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