iOS 8 Family Sharing: Explained

iPhones, iPod touches, iPads everywhere — everyone in the family has devices and uses them for everything. One of iOS 8's key improvements is more convenient family sharing. This is what it is and how it works.

Easier media sharing and better parental control

You've been able to share media content with other members of your family for quite some time thanks to Apple's Home Sharing: Up to five computers and an unlimited number of iOS devices are all linked to a central Apple ID used to buy media and apps.

That's how it's set up in my family: Me, my wife, my three kids — all of us able to buy and share apps, movies, music, TV shows, iBooks. All the content that's available from the iTunes and App Stores. Works great, though it's all dependent on my Apple ID, which means giving out my password when someone wants to make a purchase.

Inconvenient and frankly not safe — my Apple ID is my key to the Apple realm. I use it for iCloud e-mail. I sync documents in the cloud. I trust every member of my family, but it's still uncomfortable risk.

Family Sharing permission

With iOS 8 Family Sharing, we'll have that same ease of sharing but without the dependence on sharing a single Apple ID. With Family Sharing, up to six people, each with their own Apple ID, can download apps and iTunes media. Parents can control kids' spending, too.

Better family surveillance (optional)

Find My iPhone

Family Sharing isn't just about iTunes and App Store transactions, though. Managed through the iCloud settings in iOS 8, Family Sharing pulls together shared access to other content that can benefit family members.

Need to figure out where your 14 year old is? Use Find My Friends. You can also find your (or your kids') lost devices using Find my iPhone.

Of course, no one likes to be spied on, and Apple's taken that into consideration. You have control over whether your device can be located. Assuming your parents haven't restricted that functionality to begin with.

Easier calendar and photo sharing

Family Sharing shared calendar

There's also an easily shared family calendar that anyone can mark up, to help keep everyone up to date, along with shared family reminders. A shared family photo album makes it easier to remember special occasions and events.

Family Sharing photo album

Family Sharing ultimately comes down to one person who's the common point of contact — in this context, that's the Family Organizer. The Family Organizer is the person who sends out the invitations in the first place.

Reducing user pain

Our family has long made do with the patchwork of content sharing technology that Apple makes available to iOS and Mac users. But it's been unwieldy and difficult to manage. Apple's moving in the right direction by making all that easier in iOS 8 with Family Sharing.

If you're already managing much of this stuff separately, as my family is, I'm sure you can see the benefit. By bringing it under one roof through iCloud, Apple's streamlined family sharing and made it much easier to manage and more secure.

More of iOS 8: Explained