What is Apple's Family Sharing feature, and why should you care?

Apple has a new feature that promises to not only save you money but also make it easier for your family to share everything, from apps to music.

The feature is called Family Sharing, and it works across both iOS devices and Macs. Although it's not available for consumers just yet, if you've downloaded and tried out the OS X Yosemite beta it will have cropped up, and it is something that is going to become more important in the future, especially if you plan to use the new handoff and continuity features in Yosemite. 

Currently if you own more than one iOS device in your household the chances are you've got them all signed into the same iCloud account so you can share your apps, music and movies between devices without having to buy them over and over again for difference devices. 

In a future Apple world of iOS 8 and Yosemite that approach is going to get confusing, after all you don't want all your iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches all ringing when you get a call. 

Realising this, Apple has introduced Family Share allowing you to get all the benefits of content sharing that you've managed to achieve now, but with the knowledge that you have different devices with different names or accounts associated with them. 

Family Sharing

Apple introduced Family Sharing at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference on 2 June 2014 and put simply, it has been designed to allow up to six people to share data as well as purchases from iTunes Store, iBooks Store, and the App Store.

So, if you buy an app and download it on your iPad or Mac, for instance, your children and spouse will be able to download and enjoy that same app on their Apple devices at no extra cost. Family Sharing also includes ways to approve kids' spending.

Watch the WWDC keynote video below for more information. The segment about Family Sharing starts at 1:11:29.

Release date

Family Sharing will launch when the updates for iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite roll out. Consumers can expect the feature to arrive this autumn, though Apple has not announced a release date yet. Developers will get early access to Family Sharing through the iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite betas this summer. If you've downloaded the Yosemite Beta you should be able to access the feature at least for the Mac, but not for your iPhone or iPad as iOS 8 isn't out (yes you could in theory get it all connected up and sorted if you've got iOS beta running on your iOS device, but for the sake of this article we are presuming you haven't). 

Setup

There are still some elements of Family Sharing that are to be confirmed, mainly because the feature is not yet available for consumers, but we've seen in Yosemite that you need to choose a leader and they then have control over adding more accounts and devices. 

There should be settings inside your device to let you create a family unit and add another five family members. Your loved ones will receive invitations on their devices. They have to accept the invites to become a part of your Family Sharing Group.

You can accept a Family Sharing invitation from any compatible iOS device or Mac where you are signed into iCloud. During the setup process, family members could also just enter their Apple ID or password to altogether avoid sending and accepting invitations.

And finally, you can be in just one family group at a time. You're also only allowed to switch to a different family group twice per year. 

Don't worry there is also an option for setting up a child under the age of 13. 

Purchasing

All content purchases are billed directly to whoever set up the Family Sharing Group, unless someone in your family wants to use their own gift or store credit. The person who setup the Family Sharing Group is known as an organiser.

To download already-purchased content, simply visit the Purchased section in the iTunes Store, iBooks Store, and the App Store. Select the family member whose collection you'd like to browse, and then download away. Keep in mind family members can choose to hide some of their individual purchases.

If Family Sharing should ever be disabled by the organiser, each member of the family can still keep the content purchased by another member in their family group. Apple said in-app purchases from an app originally purchased by someone else must be re-bought however.

Sharing

With Family Sharing, you can share several things with each member of your family. You'll also be able to auto-configure other apps and features for your entire family, such as Find My Friends and Find My Devices.

Apart from purchased content (which includes music, movies, TV shows, ebooks, apps, games, etc), you can share things like location, photo streams, calendars, and reminder lists.

Apps

Family Sharing gives you immediate access to paid apps already purchased by members of your family. You can download your own copy of these apps directly to your Apple device without having to ask for or share Apple IDs and passwords.

Note: You can only share apps that offer support for Family Sharing. Apple has already begun asking developers to switch on the feature through their iTunes Connect developer portal, so many popular apps should allow Family Sharing by the time Apple launches the feature in autumn.

Location

Because Family Sharing uses location data, it is able to integrate with Find My Friends and Find My Devices.

Find My Friends is an app from Apple that offers a map and real-time data about the location of your friends and family, as long as they approve. Family Sharing will automatically share the location of each member in your Family Sharing Group, though you will still be able to hide your location if you want.

Find My Devices is an app from Apple that offers ways to find or wipe clean your lost Apple devices. Family Sharing automatically uses Find My Devices, and it can help parents keep track of and locate their kids' misplaced devices.

Photos

Family Sharing automatically sets up a family photo stream. You can use this stream to share photos, videos, and even comments with your Family Sharing Group.

Calendar

Similar to the shared photo stream in Family Sharing, you can also have a shared calendar. It lets everyone add events and set up reminders. They will appear on everyone’s devices at the exact time or place you choose.

Parental Controls

Family Sharing will support parental controls. It allows parents to approve purchases and downloads initiated by children via an "Ask to buy" option.

If your kid tries to buy a $49.99 app, for instance, you will get a notification about that attempt on your own device. You must give permission through this notification before your child can actually purchase anything from the iTunes Store, iBooks Store, and the App Store.

Ask to Buy is enabled by default for children under 13. That said, children under 13 can participate in Family Sharing and even have their own Apple ID (though a parent must create it on the child’s behalf).

Parents will also be able to limit the content their children can access via the Restrictions setting on an iOS device or Parental Controls on OS X and iTunes.

Requirements

According to Apple, Family Sharing requires iCloud. The feature will also only work with the following software and operating systems: iOS 8, Mac OS X Yosemite, Find My Friends 3.0, Find My iPhone 3.1, and iCloud for Windows 4.0.

You can learn more about Family Sharing by checking out Apple's online dev guide for the feature and the iOS 8 preview page.