A tale of two iPads [updated]


Let me tell you a story. It all started yesterday, post-Apple press event. The details of the iPad 2 – though perhaps not a huge revolutionary leap forward – is definitely a big improvement over the original model. Some might say (and have said) that this is the device that Apple should’ve launched to begin with. Can’t say I disagree with that. And so, like any Apple blogger worth her salt, I commence coveting the new Apple tablet.

My husband and I share an iPad 1, and it has become like a member of our family. When it’s not in our line of sight, we freak out like any good parent would. But my husband and I share custody of it, and though we are happily married, it feels like he has sole custody, and I only have visitation rights.

Now I’m honestly excited about the prospect of adopting a new one. For all its dual core processor, dual cameras, HDMI-out support, Smart Cover and thinner form factor splendiferousness, these all play second fiddle to something else – the mere fact that I will no longer have to battle my husband in an epic American Gladiator—style smackdown whenever I’d like to lavish some attention on it for a change (*eyeroll*).

So yes – I’d have to say that I absolutely do need the new iPad when it arrives on March 11.

And that brings us to this morning, when I called Apple support with a question: If I get the new iPad, how can the hubbby and I separate our app assets that are currently loaded on our tablet?

After a few minutes of long-winded explanations, here’s the answer I got: We can’t.

It’s not really a surprise. I knew iTunes and iOS worked this way based on years of iPhone usage. You can gift an app at the time of purchase – you can even share it with up to 5 computers or devices under the same iTunes account – but once you buy it (and it’s tied to your account), you absolutely cannot give it to another user. Given the nature of software licensing, this does make some degree of sense. If my husband and I each want an app on our own separate iPhones, for example, we should each be prepared to pay for it. Two users, two payments. Simple and completely understandable.

But an iPad is not an iPhone. In both cases, only one iTunes/App Store account can be associated with it at a time, but this no big deal for the iPhone. Smartphone owners usually manage and control their own devices individually. iPad users, however, tend to share with multiple family members. If one of them wanted their own tablet, why make it so difficult to port things over? Apple wants to encourage iPad 2 sales, so why not offer some limited iPad app migration? I’m not talking about endless sharing here, but a one-time transfer (say, only to one household member) that also deletes the app from the original device.

I’d love for this to work like traditional software on disks. You buy a DVD or CD, and it comes with a serial key and a EULA, or end user licensing agreement. If it’s a single user license, then it means just that – only a single person can use it (piracy notwithstanding). So in general, you could wipe it off your computer and give the program and serial key to someone else, and it would be legal.

Currently, this isn’t possible with iOS. So if I give my husband this tablet and get myself an iPad 2, I will be taking all of our iPad apps with me – whether I want them or not. Meanwhile, for him to continue using his essential iPad apps, there’s only one big question: Will he have to buy them all over again? At $10 and more for some of them, this could get pretty pricey.

(UPDATE: Possible solutions have been suggested by the community! If you’re affected by this too, see the update below.)

Will this issue have any bearing on your iPad plans? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.


UPDATE: Looks like lots of readers have chimed in here to show me the error of my ways! Thanks for the participation, everyone.

Comments vary, from suggesting that I should share one iTunes account with my husband to just saying that I screwed up by not managing the accounts better to begin with. There’s at least some merit to both statements, I have to admit. But it’s not feasible for us to share iTunes accounts. We’ve each had our own for years, and have built up quite a stock of apps. Neither of us is willing to part with that to join the other’s account.

As for screwing up the management of the accounts, I can’t say that’s totally false here either. But again, we had no choice but to tie the iPad to a single iTunes account. We happened to choose mine. If we had picked his, we’d still be in this boat, except I’d be the one borrowing his device whenever I needed certain apps. Again, after paying around $1,000 for two tablets in two years, still having to share iPads is a bit disconcerting.

So, the Apple rep had told us there was nothing we could do about this. But you guys disagreed! Tracey, Tom and others mentioned authorizing the husband’s computer (for my account), and then simply backing up the device onto it, then syncing his iDevice(s) to it, to bring those apps over.

Or in other words, as reader Adam Hamidou explains:

“…My wife and I have separate iTunes libraries and iTunes accounts and separate computers too and yet we can share our apps. First set itunes not to autosync on connection in the itunes preferences. Take your husbands iPad/iPhone and connect it to your computer. Right click on the device and select Transfer purchases. This will copy his apps to your iTunes library and any other iTunes purchases. Then you can select what app you want and sync it to your phone. Your husband needs to authorise your computer with this iTunes account as well and then it’s done. Your iTunes and iPad/iPhone will be authorised at iTunes with the two accounts each taking up one of our 5 allowed devices. It works really well with us and we only buy the app once.”

I have certainly authorized multiple machines under my one iTunes account before, but only to sync various devices that I own – not the husband’s. If this works without changing or eradicating any of his data, then we might have a “winner, winner, chicken dinner” here. So I’ll give this one a shot and report back. Thanks to everyone who suggested this!

UPDATE2: I gave this a try, and it’s a definitely a handy way to go. Here’s what I did:

(1) Authorized iTunes on my husband’s computer with my account. (His iPhone apps and data on his computer remain unaltered.)
(2) Hooked up our shared iPad 1 (with my account tied to it) to his computer. (IMPORTANT: Auto-sync was disabled. It was set to manual sync only.) 
(3) Right-clicked the device on the left side and chose “Transfer Purchases.” Waited until the apps, music and other items transferred from the iPad 1 to his iTunes/computer.
(4) Disconnected the iPad 1.
(5) We connected his iPhone, to see if the apps from the iPad 1 would come over. We crossed our fingers, then sync’ed.

In the end, all the apps from the iPad were transferred to his iTunes and the ones that were compatible with the iPhone came over to his handset, without erasing his pre-existing apps or data. And although we were doing our happy dance at this point, there were a couple of things we noticed about this procedure:

– The apps from the iPad 1 (tied to my account) sync’ed to his iPhone fine, but the app data did not.

– Again, you can authorize up to five computers for a single iTunes account, and this process will use one of those authorizations. This will be fine for a lot of people, but if you have more than one computer at home, plus Apple TVs or maybe computers at work that you authorize under a given account, you may have to watch your limit carefully.

– Right now, his iPhone holds both his apps and those from our iPad 1, which is great. But whenever he wants to update them all (whether on his handset or via iTunes), he’ll have to log in twice – once under his account and again under mine, so that all of the apps update. And from now on, whenever he wants to buy an app, he should be aware of which account he’s logged into.

These issues aren’t tragic, by any means, and it does provide some sort of alternative, which is a good thing. But it’s not exactly an elegant solution. So I still contend, as stated originally, that enabling multiple accounts on a single iPad from the beginning would’ve been far better and easier to manage. Barring that, a one-time ability to move apps to another account could’ve bypassed the need for all this.

In any case, to all the readers of TiP, thank you! I have to admit that I’m doing a bit of a *facepalm* right now, but it just goes to show that even veteran iOS users can still learn a thing or two from others. And that’s why we’re all here – to learn from each other. So I may be a bit humbled, but really happy that you guys jumped in with the brainstorming.

If other wonky things start happening over time, especially once the iPad 2 arrives, I’ll be sure to share those experiences.

Thanks again, everyone!

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  • Thomas Wylie

    Sorry, maybe I’m missing something but as far as I can see this article makes no sense! Just sign it up to the same account and only install the apps you want! Neither of you has to have apps installed you don’t need and neither of you will need to pay for apps twice. What is the problem?

    • Adriana Lee

      Hey, Thomas. Here, I’ll clarify:

      Hubby: His iPhone syncs to his computer.
      Me: My iPhone syncs to my computer. Also, our shared iPad syncs to my computer.

      Also, I’m getting an iPad 2. So now, I’ll have two iPads synced to my computer. Both his (iPad 1) and mine (iPad 2). Instead of his being able to buy an app and have it sync to both his iDevices (when applicable), it won’t. It will sync to mine.

      And then what happens when he and I do want to use the same app? On all my devices, it will sync to the same iTunes account, on this computer. So keeping our user data separate will also be a challenge. Is it an insurmountable, impossible situation? No. It’s not. But it’s extremely inconvenient. Especially considering that, between the two devices, we’ve plunked down $1,000.

  • Jammin

    Am I missing something here? Your husband can’t use your apps? Is he not synching it to the same computer and iTunes account? At least you could log into his iPad and redownload apps you’ve purchased for free. My buddy did that and I’ve been playing angry birds ever since (can’t update though, don’t remember his password)
    I don’t understand what your trying to accomplish, that you can’t.

  • Terri

    We did a search on the internet as our harddrive gave out and we lost everything. Anyhow, we found an application to backup our Itunes settings including all our devices we had setup to sync with our itunes, this app then also let us transferr it to a different PC and itunes installation. If you google it I’m sure you’ll find something.

  • Adriana Lee

    It’s actually quite simple. The iPad doesn’t allow for multiple accounts, so we had no choice but to pick one iTunes account for it. So we picked mine. (At first, he had no idea how much of an iPad addict he’d become.) Since then, my husband has bought and uses a lot of apps via the tablet. He also has an iPhone, with a separate iTunes account, stash of photos, notes, contacts, calendars and collection of apps and backups.

    Now, when I get the iPad 2, the iPad 1 will become his dedicated device. And so, it’s only natural that he’d want to have ALL of his “stuff” in his own iTunes (account and backups) and keep the two devices in sync.

    Right now, his notes don’t sync to the iPad 1. Mine do. Likewise with the calendar and other data. When this iPad becomes his, he’ll naturally want his own notes, calendars, contacts, etc. on his tablet. So he’ll sync it with his iTunes. When he does that, however, it will erase all the apps on it – including MindNode, which he loves. Yes, I can keep it in my iTunes and put it on my iPad 2, for him to use… but this doesn’t make sense. I don’t use this app, and yet I have to take up precious space on my device with this (and other apps), just so that my husband – who has a tablet of his own at that point – can come and borrow my device?

    Someone remind me again of why I’m getting my own iPad? Oh right – so we don’t have to share a tablet. After spending $1,000 on two devices, I just don’t think it should be this much of a pain in the neck – especially since we weren’t able to designate two separates accounts for the iPad to begin with. So it does feel like we were forced into this situation.

    But instead of majorly changing iOS to allow for multiple accounts (which I honestly think would be a superb idea), then at least a change in protocol to allow for a one-time app transfer within the same household would address the issue.

    As it stands, it seems the only alternative is for him to buy his apps again under his own iTunes account. And that’s certainly not a big deal for one or two. But 10 of them? 20? More? And at prices of $6, $10 and higher? Ugh.

    Anyway, so this is the crux of the situation. If I’m overlooking something here, or if anyone has any other suggestions, I’m all ears. Otherwise, it looks like – if we’re to keep our accounts and apps separate – we’re doomed to buy dupes of applications. And that just blows.

    (P.S. If you’re wondering why we didn’t we just change the iPad account to his information earlier on, it’s because it wouldn’t have mattered. We’d still be in this exact same situation, but in reverse. I’d have to leave my iPad 2 on my desk and come begging to borrow his when I needed a particular app.)

    • Tom F

      Oh, I see now. You are wanting to maintain two different iTunes/app store accounts. Why? Bet you each have your own separate checking accounts.

  • Tracey

    Try looking into transferring purchases. I buy app on iPhone then transfer purchase to hubby’s laptop (where he syncs his iPhone.) Then after purchase is transferred then sync iPhone to my PC. Do not let your iPhone sync to his computer (turn off auto sync.) usually works for us. This way we buy only once but share the app on multiple devices. Apple ID not necessary to transfer purchases from iPhone. If app does get removed from your iPhone just repurchase on iPhone again for free. Hope that helps.

  • Adam Hamidou

    Not true. My wife and I have separate iTunes libraries and iTunes accounts and separate computers too and yet we can share our apps. First set itunes not to autosync on connection in the itunes preferences. Take your husbands iPad/iPhone and connect it to your computer. Right click on the device and select Transfer purchases. This will copy his apps to your iTunes library and any other iTunes purchases. Then you can select what app you want and sync it to your phone. Your husband needs to authorise your computer with this iTunes account as well and then it’s done. Your iTunes and iPad/iPhone will be authorised at iTunes with the two accounts each taking up one of our 5 allowed devices. It works really well with us and we only buy the app once.

  • Aaron Powell

    I have an iPod, iPhone, iPad 1 and I plan on getting the iPad 2. All of them are on the same iTunes account, so no matter which device I buy an app on all of them can install the app and use it freely. Sounds like your mistake was setting them up on different accounts.

  • John

    What if you installed itunes on “your thumb drive” and itunes on “his thumb drive”?
    That way you would have a “his and hers” environment.

  • Tom F

    So if you have 2 iPhones (a 3G and a 4) and an iPad 1 and an iPad 2, you cannot associate or authorize them on multiple computers?

    Disclaimer: I do not have all of these, just a 4 and an inactive 3G. I backup the 4 to my desktop and laptop so that I am covered all the time.

    Are we saying that with an iPad I cannot auth it on multiple systems?

  • Tom

    Try this: Make sure that his computer is one of the 5 authorized to play itunes purchased content from your account. Then you should be able to back-up the iPad apps on his computer and reload them onto his new iPad.
    I’m not 100% sure that this will work without affecting his other iPhone apps or contacts, but I did back-up my iPad onto another authorized computer.

  • Abraham Soto

    I read your articles a lot and I usually love and agree with what you write. However, as you see from the trend of comments starting to build, this article makes no sense and is a bit misleading. Just to be clear, it sounds like you don’t know how to manage your accounts and your devices.
    My wife and I both have iphones and have had several devices (iPhone, iPhone 3, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4). We plan to get at least one of these iPads as well. We both have different apps on our devices and we’ve never paid for an app twice. We simply use the same iTunes account on all of our 4 macs and choose which apps we want to sync or not.
    It sounds like you might have different iTune accounts and that you need to just manage the two a little bit better. You could log into the computer of choice with the iTunes account that has the apps of choice and then authorize the computer to use those apps. Then sync the iPad with that computer and the apps you’ve downloaded (only the ones you want of course.)

  • Elena-Beth Kaye

    All you have to do is make sure that you are each authorized to play each other’s music, which means each computer is one of the five authorized by the other. Then you can go to your iTunes folder in the Finder, go to the folder called Mobile Applications, copy the apps you want to a flash drive, take the flash drive to the other computer, drag the apps into the iTunes application window. And when you sync, you’ll see the new apps on the iPad. Voila! After that, whenever you need to update an app that belongs to the other person, just log into iTunes under that person’s ID and update, then log back in as yourself. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not.