[Updated] The trouble with having two Apple IDs

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Update

Apple now has a feature called Family Sharing. Among other things, it allows for sharing purchased content and apps between multiple Apple IDs in an account. Read more about how it works on Apple’s site, as it solves mout, possibly all, of the trouble mentioned here.


The public release of Apple’s music subscription service ‘Apple Music’ brought my one major gripe with Apple’s account system into focus again: The fact that Apple doesn’t allow merging of Apple IDs will mess with your ability to make use of iCloud Family Sharing and the Apple Music Family Membership.

How to end up with two Apple IDs

I have two accounts with Apple. One is the iTunes ID that I created when I bought my first Apple device in 2004 — a 4th generation iPod, thankyouverymuch, and yes it still works nicely. The other was created when I bought my first Mac in 2008 and signed up for a MobileMe address.

When Apple introduced iCloud in 2011, all MobileMe accounts were converted into iCloud accounts and became Apple IDs, with all the capabilities of an Apple ID used in the iTunes and App Store. That’s where the problems started because many users were left with two Apple IDs and no way to merge them.

Since Apple made this change, they’ve provided a way for their customers to use a different Apple ID for signing into iTunes and iCloud when setting up a new Mac or iOS device. It’s inelegant, but it has worked well so far because iTunes, App Store, and personal content stored in iCloud didn’t intersect until last year.

Where things get really inconvenient

When iCloud Family Sharing was introduced in June 2014, this configuration became a problem for anyone with two Apple IDs and the desire to share content with their family, because Apple doesn’t provide a way to set up iCloud Family sharing for two different accounts. Depending on the way a person has been using the two Apple IDs, certain content is going to be permanently unavailable for Family Sharing.

Essentially, I can either decide to share my Apple Music subscription, along with my music, movie, TV, books, and app purchases with my family; or I can decide to easily and privately share calendars and photos — the latter is something we love doing in my family. And really, I don’t want to have to decide.

Best case and worst case scenarios

Lucky for me, the case above is a best case scenario. I have diligently separated my iTunes/App Store purchases and data stored in MobileMe/iCloud from the get-go, resulting in all my media purchases being linked to my original iTunes ID from 2004(1) and all my iCloud data being associated with my MobileMe address from 2008(2).

Theoretically, anyone who is in the same situation can manually migrate personal data like calendars, events, reminders, notes, and contacts to the Apple ID/iCloud account that is linked to their iTunes and App Store purchases, and continue to use the other iCloud account for email(3), but the process is far from trivial.

The worst case scenario applies to all cases where a user hasn’t made sure to make all app purchases with just one of the two accounts. Only Apple has the ability to accomplish anything here.

Pitfalls of merging Apple IDs

With my limited knowledge of Apple’s account and data structures, there are two issue I can think of as to why they haven’t come forward with a solution for this problem:

  1. Syncing complex data isn’t easy and the potential for data loss or corruption is very high.
  2. Apple needs to make sure no one gains access to another persons data by merging Apple IDs.

Personally, I find the former issue to be much worse than the latter because the latter is a matter of effective authentication(4).

With all that said, merging the purchase history of two Apple IDs and the personal data in both accounts is not impossible, and should be solvable for a company like Apple.

  1. Which amouts to eleven years of occasional music, movie, TV show, book, and application purchases.
  2. These are thousands of emails in my MobileMe/iCloud account, associated with three different aliases that I use constantly. Also my PIM data and iMessage history.
  3. Apple allows users to sign in with more than one iCloud account on a Mac or iOS device. The secondary account can be used for email, notes, calendars, and reminders, but things like Family Sharing, Find my Device, iCloud Keychain, etc. can not be used with it.
  4. An idea for solving the latter problem would be to create a secure environment, like a dedicated iOS app in which a user can log in with both Apple IDs to authenticate themselves, preferably with more than just the login credentials. Only if the authentication is successful will Apple have the permission to actually initiate the account merging process.