Separating family iTunes and iCloud accounts

Q: My son and I share an iTunes account. I would like to separate his iPod and iPhone to his own account and e-mail while maintaining the existing account and e-mail as mine for my iPad and iPod touch. I’m not sure how to do that without losing all our existing music, movies, etc. Your help would be most appreciated.

– Scott

A: It’s definitely possible to do this, and there are a few key points to keep in mind when considering how to best sort out your individual accounts and your media collection.

Firstly, keep in mind that an iTunes Store account and an iCloud account are actually two entirely different things. Although both use an Apple ID, and both can use the same Apple ID, this isn’t a requirement at all.

This means that you can very easily have one Apple ID for iCloud and an entirely different one for your iTunes Store account. In more practical terms, this means that you could configure your son’s iPod and iPhone to use his own account for iCloud features—e-mail, contacts, calendars, backups, documents, photo streams and so forth—while still continuing to use your shared iTunes Store account for accessing and purchasing media content.

Note that the same applies to other types of Apple accounts used on iOS devices. iMessage, FaceTime, and Game Center can either use the same Apple ID as your iCloud and/or iTunes accounts, or they can use completely separate Apple IDs; in fact you could actually use an entirely different Apple ID for each of these services on the same device if you wanted to.

Regarding iTunes media content, the most important point to keep in mind is that the iTunes Store account that you actually log into on your device is not the only account that can be authorized on that device. Apple allows content from up to five different iTunes Store accounts to be used on a device, provided that it was either purchased directly on the device using that account, or synchronized onto the device from an iTunes library that is authorized to play that content.

In this particular case, if you and your son continue sharing the same iTunes library, you actually do not risk losing any content simply by his switching to a different iTunes Store account.

Any content that you were syncing to his iPhone or iPod before from that computer will continue to sync over in exactly the same manner as it did before. Further, you can authorize the computer for his new iTunes Store account, and any content he purchases on his iPhone or iPod touch will be automatically transferred back to the iTunes library each time he syncs.

The same logic also applies if your son is already using his own separate iTunes library that has been authorized for your shared account. He can setup his own account and begin using that, but as long as the second computer remains authorized for your original iTunes Store account—which it does by default—he can continue syncing and using that content in the same manner as before.

If you’re planning to setup a new iTunes library for your son to use on a separate computer, then your best option is to transfer your existing library over to the new computer to use as a starting point, and ensure that the new computer is authorized for your shared iTunes Store account. You can find out more information on how to do this in our article on Transferring your iTunes Library. Once you’ve transferred the library over, your son basically just plugs in the iPod or iPhone to the new computer and can pick up where he left off; sync settings for each of your iOS devices are stored alongside the library database.