Apple limiting users to 3 free Find my iPhone account setups per device?

Turns out there might be a hard -- and permanent -- per device limit to setting up those free Find my iPhone accounts Apple announced alongside iOS 4.2.1, the ones you needed an iPhone 4, iPod touch (2010), or iPad to initiate but could then use on iPhone 3GS and other, older hardware.

TiPb Forum member milani started setting up a few accounts and after the 3rd he was greeted with a popup that said:

Cannot Sign In

The maximum number of free accounts have been activated on this iPhone.

There's a learn more button but apparently whatever landing page is supposed to be there to explain further isn't there yet.

A second popup read:

Account Limit Reached

This device is no longer eligible for creating a free MobileMe account.

Now granted, most users won't need more than one account. They'll create it, set it up on their iOS devices and be done. However some family members may only have one 2010 device to create the accounts on but want one or more accounts for different devices, for privacy's sake. If there is indeed a hard limit of 3 accounts per device it would be neighborly of Apple to "fine print" it somewhere. We looked but couldn't find anything, even in the Knowledge Base FAQ. There doesn't seem to be a way to remove accounts either, so once you've created 3 on a device, that's it, that's all. Forever.

So if you were planning on setting up multiple accounts, be forewarned. And if you've had this problem let us know what, if anything, you've been able to do about it.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Apple limiting users to 3 free Find my iPhone account setups per device?


I'm glad they finally made it free!
Think the percentage that needs more then 3 find my iPhone services per device is very small.

Actually, here is what is happening to me...I have find my iphone on our main device (iphone). She has her id on her iphone and when i go into find my iphone, i have both devices listed. In addition, her itouch is also listed on my account. Today, I tried to add my daughter's account by sending her a request via find my friends. It sent the request. Since she is young (12) and doesn't always use her itouch, I logged on it today to accept the request. This is a way for me to track her device but also her if she has it when she leaves the house. In any case, I tried to log into find my friends using her free account (which I set up so I know the name and password). That is when the error popped up. She does not have any other devices or account names so I'm really confused. Unless apple does not want you to access more than three things under that free account. I'm sure she probably has three different programs running under that account name but that's crazy...

^^ spammer lol
I can see it being fair. After all its a free service, normally for those who pay $99 a year. Plus how many of you have more then 3 idevices at home? whats the chance of them all getting lost or stolen?>

I am the one who alerted Rene to the issue.
It's not really that one needs to setup 3 different accounts (although, in my case I chose to do so); my issue is that, on principle, Apple should have published that there was a 3 account limit.
The other problem is that once it's done, it can't be undone. Deleting the accounts does not seem to make a difference. The "activation" is always and forever linked to your serial number.
I should also point out that I have been paying a full MobileMe subscription since the service was launched - so please don't think that I am trying to dime the system.

I pay $99/year. Three free devices to track, for FREE, is MORE than fair. You "something for nothing" trolls are idiots.

Why are you guys complaining about something they are offering for free? Creating a bunch of accounts is taking advantage of the situation and wrong in the first place. I actually paid for this service through MobileMe and feel like I got jipped, now that part of what I paid for is being offered free to user of the new A4 gen. Then people are abusing the service and complaining of limits. Come on! Grow up! Apple is offering this for new devices not old ones. Think of it as theft of service when you do that. Some people are just plain pathetic.

Weird because I have four setup on my iphone 4, I am running 4.2.1 and did not have the Mobile Me service.

@Joey, I also have paid for MobileMe since launch. How exactly am I abusing the service? My contention is that Apple is absolutely within its rights to set a limit. I also think this is quite reasonable. But don't you think that warning people ahead of time that there was a limit, and that once it is cross it cannot be uncrossed, would have been the responsible thing for Apple to do?

@Jon they are well within there right to not post a limit. They are offering it for free. Users shouldn't complain about that. If you have three new devices then you create one account for each device. That simple. People are abusing the free offering creating more then they need for there old devices that apple clearly points out that this service is for current gen only. Basically A4 Gen. They don't have to post a limit. As far as my MobileMe subscription goes, well I think we all should get a credit or something for the service we paid for that is now offered free.

You're right, they don't have to post anything, but in the interest of good faith it would have been nice to have known ahead of time. I don't see any compelling reason not to tell users "just so you know, you can only activate 3 free Mobile Me accounts from your iPhone 4".
The problem for me, Joey, is that since I wasn't told there was a limit, and have no way to reverse the activations, I'm essentially stuck. If I HAD known, I wouldn't have setup 3 accounts in the first place. To be clear, my issue is not the limit (I think that is fair); my issue is that I didn't know there was a limit, and, now that I DO know there is a limit, I have no way to take back those activations.
The irony here is that now I have no way to create a free account should I choose to discontinue my paid MobileMe service (which, I should note, I still plan to keep anyway).
As far as some form of compensation goes, I would agree with you. I think that, given that Find my iPhone is now free, us paid users should at least get a discount on our service - considering 1/6th of the service is now essentially free for everyone.

Why do I need more than one account again? I have three devices (actually I have more, but only three that I want to track) and have registered all three to the same (free) account. If I login to FindMyPhone I can select any of these three devices to locate. Presumably I can add more if I wish? Even if not, that's still nine devices if i sign up three accounts isn't it? how is that unfair for a free service?

It's 3 user accounts per device. It's amazing how 90% of the commenters have so obviously not bothered to read the relatively short article nor the comments by the user who first reported it!

@Jeff Higgins
I did read it thanks. It doesn't mention why he wants more than one account. Nobody does, other than an implied reference to people wanting to subvert the free account offer by setting up accounts for friends/relatives who do not qualify for the free account themselves.
Whether there is a limit or not, my question was "why would I legitimately need more than one account?" - what level of privacy does having more than one account give me, given that I own all my phones? Am I missing something by only having my single account?

"wasted on the worst generation of spoilt idiots" louis ck.
its pretty sad to see it's becoming the norm to complain and feel put out when receiving free services. people need to gtfu and be thankful for what you do get.

Technically it is not a free service because you still need to pay for a very expensive iPhone 4 when the other iPhones cannot get the service for free even though they are capable of it.

it is free, because when i brought my iphone4, I would have to pay extra for this. Now it is free. Other phones can get it for free if their account is activated through new gen hardware. Also for free. Using "well you had to buy an expensive phone to get it" is a stupid argument as people have already decided to part with the money before getting offered this service.

I signed up with my iPhone 4, added an iPhone 3G, added a touch 3rd gen and added an iPad -- all on the same account. So it's working for me with four devices. I'll be trying to add a 5th closer to Christmas.

I have 2 iPhone 4s, one iPhone 3GS, one iPod 4th gen and an iPad for a total of 5 on my account. All being tracked and located just fine.

@QuackingPlums: Isn't the word "subvert" a little strong when tells you how to do it? Like so many things, if Apple didn't want it done, it would have prevented it and certainly wouldn't have explained how to do it. Right?

My bad about my earlier post #20. This is about the number of "accounts", not the number of "devices" on an account. Not sure why someone would want more than one account because you have to duplicate the buying of the apps.

Quote from the article:
"However some family members may only have one 2010 device to create the accounts on but want one or more accounts for different devices, for privacy’s sake."
THAT is why you might want to use different accounts per device.
I also don't see the benefit of having my easily stolen iPod connected to my iPhone. Maybe I don't want someone to easily track ME down!

Anyway, as I understand it, the entire point is not that Apple set a limit, it's that they didn't tell anyone there was a limit. Now the OP is screwed because he can't undo those secondary accounts he setup for his other devices.
I think even the most ardent, argumentative of us would agree that Apple SHOULD have warned users that you can only activate 3 accounts from your device. The only reason ANY of you guys know there is a limit is because OP hit it...

I think everyone is confusing "accounts per device" with "devices per account" which is unlimited.
2010 devices get free accounts, older devices can use accounts but not get free ones created.
What the author did is try and cheat the system by creating free accounts from his device to give to his friends who did not qualify. Now he is mad that he can't create more free acounts for more friends, or for himself if he decides not to pay for his account anymore. He thought he found a loophole to cheat the system, found out Apple had thought of that loophole and he got screwed.
Compare it to a thief bitching because the jewelry store did not advertise they had a security system that would catch him.

According to Rene he was creating accounts for his own devices. Looks like you didn't read the article either. :/ waaa waaaaaaa

I think it's more ridiculous that Apple is limiting setting up new free accounts to 2010 iDevices only. Why on earth should I have to go out and buy a new expensive piece of technology to do something my phone can already do? While I've been happy with the 3GS, this reminds me of how 3G owners got screwed with the 4.0 update that basically only added folders and slowed down their phones as to become borderline unusable.
Not like this is going to stop me from trying to use another iDevice to setup a free account, but it is a silly policy.