Apple's new security enhancements in iOS 7 are a credible theft deterrent, but also make iCloud and Find My iPhone harder to manage for groups of devices.
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New iOS security enhancements limit Find My iPhone’s flexibility


Two years ago, I wrote an article about how families could set up and manage iCloud to work across multiple devices. The inspiration for this post was my own struggle to figure things out for my household in the wake of the new service’s release with iOS 5. Apple didn’t provide much in the way of instructions for anything besides using iCloud for an individual user, and unfortunately, they still don’t. But, after a lot of research and trial and error, I figured out what I needed to know to make it all work.

In my earlier article, and the subsequent lengthy discussion in the comments, I suggested two different setup possibilities. First, you could have everyone in your family share a single primary iCloud account, which would handle backups, Find My iPhone, and would also allow all users to share a single Photo Stream. Then, each user could set up an individual iCloud account under Settings-Mail,Contacts,Calendar where they could sync their personal information, such as Calendars, Contacts, Notes, and Reminders.

While there are a couple of advantages to using this method, it is also rather limiting in some ways. First, you are locked to using a shared free 5GB of storage, or having to pay for more space to backup your devices. If you have more than 3 in your household, the 5GB likely won’t cut it. Second, all of your devices will be sharing Documents and Data under this single master account. This wasn’t as much of a problem two years ago, because only a few developers were using iCloud for document storage and app saves. It would be a much larger issue today, with many games and most document storage and production apps having some kind of iCloud integration.

If you and other members of your household use the same apps, you will have the same saved files. For document apps, it would just mean that each device would have everyone else’s documents and files. As long as multiple people in your family aren’t editing the same files, this is more of an annoyance than a problem. However, this arrangement would definitely be an issue for any games that transfer save files across iCloud. My three children have either hand-me-down iPhones without SIMs or iPod Touches, so this would definitely not fly in my house anymore. We have enough of a problem with this when they borrow either my or my wife’s iPad, or play games with single save files on the Wii or OUYA.

The second method of setting up iCloud for a family is to create individual iCloud accounts for each user in your household. This confused a lot of users at first, because Apple didn’t spell out the fact that your iCloud account doesn’t not have any diresct relationship with your iTunes and App Store account. They can be the same, but they don’t have to be. This is important for families like mine, where all of the users share a single App Store account, allowing them to purchase apps and music once and all have use of it.

When you set up individual accounts, the big advantages that you get are 5GB of backup space and individual Documents and Data storage for each user. You do lose the ability to share a single Photo Stream, but Apple has thankfully addressed this over the last two years with shared streams for photos. As for sharing things like Calendars, Contacts, Reminders, or Notes accounts, it is easy to set up one of the single users’ accounts as a secondary iCloud account under Settings-Mail,Contacts,Calendar.


This method merges all of the data in each selected category, which will work great in some situations. However, it is very much a hammer approach, when many users would rather have a scalpel. I know some people who did this without understanding the ramifications of it beforehand. They ended up with huge merged Contacts and Calendar databases after that first sync and weren’t very happy about it, which is understandable. You have to use this method judiciously. Thankfully, Apple does allow users to share individual Calendars and Reminders Lists, but you have to go to too do it.

iCloud Account Sharing

As you can see in the photo above, sharing Calendars or Reminders Lists is very easy, once you know where to go. Unfortunately, most of the average iOS users out there probably aren’t even aware that exists. That’s certainly the impression that I’ve gotten in helping people with iCoud.

All that aside, this is much more flexible than merging all of the information in a given sync category with multiple users. For example, my wife and I use our Shared Shopping List all of the time. It always syncs and updates quickly on all of our devices, without affecting any of our other data. She can add things while I am already in the store, and they pop up almost immediately. This works soooo much better for me than texting back and forth. I’m very much a list person, so I have really enjoyed having this feature.

Even if you don’t have any reason to sync Calendars, Contacts, Reminders, or Notes between more than one account, there was another really good reason to set up a secondary iCloud account. You could set up a designated secondary account across all of your devices, and turn on Find My iPhone/iPod/iPad under it. Then, all of your family’s iOS devices would show up under a single login. This made looking for a device faster and much easier than trying to remember everyone’s individual account information off the top of your head. If you suspect that a device is lost or stolen, time is of the essence, so this is always how I recommended that other people set up their accounts when asked.

Unfortunately, this setup method no longer works in iOS 7 or above. When Apple rolled out their new security enhancements to help deter theft, the ability to use a secondary iCloud account for Find my iPhone was removed. Now, Find My iPhone plays a role in erasing or re-activating an iOS device, potentially making the theft of iOS devices much less attractive. If Find My iPhone is turned on (which users are encouraged to do during initial device setup), a thief would have to know your iCloud account information to turn it off. Combine this with a passcode (which users are also encouraged to set up in iOS 7 and is dead simple with Touch ID) and the fact that your iCloud password is also required to wipe the device, and said thief will be hard pressed to do much with your devices at all.

However, with this change, it became essential for Find my iPhone to be tied to your primary iCloud account. Allowing secondary account could leave devices more vulnerable, so Apple’s decision to remove this capability is understandable. Unfortunately, there really aren’t any alternatives at this time for use in the home. Apple has some device management features built into iOS 7, but they are geared toward enterprise-grade third party solutions. Apple’s own free iPhone Configuration Manager doesn’t have any Find My iPhone integration, so that isn’t an option, either.

So, the best thing you can do to help you manage your family’s iCloud accounts is to store them on your device for quick lookup when you need to use Find My iPhone. Just be aware of the security ramifications of doing this. If you use a passcode on your device, then you are probably safe storing this information in the Notes app, or in a non-secure note taking app like Evernote. However, if you don’t keep a passcode lock, I would definitely not recommend this. You would basically be handing a thief access to your Apple accounts. If they can get into one, they can probably get into them all, and if they get into your iTunes/App Sore account, watch out.

20131030-021247.jpgFor an extra measure of security, I would suggest that you use a notes app that has extra security built-in for your protection. There are plenty of these that are available for free in the App Store, so do yourself a favor and err on the side of security over convenience in this case. The free version of the popular password and account info storage app, Dashlane, comes to mind. It has a master password, as well as a PIN code option for use after the app times out, as well as individually password protected Secure Notes.

At the end of the day, while this certainly isn’t as easy as being able to set up all of your iOS devices under on iCloud account for Find My iPhone, It does work. Security is all about the trade off between safety and convenience. This time, convenience took a hit in my household, as I now have to manage eight iOS devices spread across seven people. However, I still think Apple made the right move here. With iOS devices being such a big target for thieves, their security enhancements at least add enough complications to the equation to give them little pause. If they can’t turn them around quickly and easily, then what’s the point.

So while Apple has tipped the scales more toward security, they did so for good reason. Thankfully, keeping up with the information for multiple iCloud accounts isn’t all that difficult, and if you do your homework, your sensitive information will still be secure. Hopefully, Apple will give us some kind of management tool at some point, but until then, be sure to keep up with all those iCloud accounts. If you have kids, you’ll need them.

Have any questions about iCloud or Find my iPhone? if so, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, on Twitter @jhrogersii, or on Google+. I would love to hear from you.

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  • Jagstyles

    Great update to your original article. I had been using the same setup until the recent ios 7 update and became so disappointed with the inability to share a family icloud account for find my iphone.

    This frustration has now doubled with iCloud Keychain only being available for the primary account. The reason is that my wife and I share most accounts on the web, whether it be for our banking or message boards. A shared iCloud Keychain makes so much sense. How do you suggest we handle this moving forward?

    Also, one thing we’ve done is share an icloud account for contacts (mutual friends and family members) and calendar for events outside of work that we each need to know about.

    Thanks again for the post.

    • Jagstyles

      Forgot to mention that this change also ruined the ability to share bookmarks across my family members. I need a work around for this.

      • James Rogers

        Good catch on the Bookmarks. I didn’t notice. I have them turned on, but I use Chrome most of the time now, so I didn’t pay attention.