Why Do Amazon & Apple Hate Families?

With the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle Fire among the hot gifts for families this year, it’s pretty sad that neither device has any concept of “family” baked into it. Used by plenty of children, these devices ironically aren’t intended for them.

Crazy, right? I mean, who hasn’t seen kids taking to an iPad like a duck to water. Why, several parents I know have their iPads or other iOS devices like the iPhone loaded with apps that entertain and educate their children.

iTunes Isn’t For Kids

That’s the problem. To load those apps for their kids, parents have to use their own accounts. The kids, they can’t have their own.

My wife desperately wishes she didn’t have all our kids’ apps cluttering her account. A friend of hers was recently telling me the exact same wish, how she didn’t want all these apps on her phone.

How can they transfer them to their kids? They can’t. The iTunes Store, you see, isn’t designed for kids. Hit the web page about the store, and down at the bottom, you’ll find this disclaimer:

The iTunes Store is available only to persons age 13 or older in the U.S.

If your kid can’t have an iTunes Store account, then they can’t buy apps for themselves. They have to glom on to an adult to get their apps, probably one of their parents.

The Apps You Leave Behind

Oh, you can get around this. I recently made one of my sons a virtual year older than he really is just so I could get him going with his own iTunes account, so that his purchases would no longer clutter up my wife’s account.

Of course, he had to leave behind all the old apps he used to play on her account. The really important ones, well, I suppose they might get purchased again. Fortunately, they’re generally cheap enough. But it kinds of sucks that a parent who bought an app for their child can’t transfer that app to them formally.

Get Your Family Going On Kindle…

Then there’s the Kindle. Having used it since the beginning of this year, I’ve learned to love the device.

I’ve gotten over the fact that I’m often paying the same price for a book as the print edition despite their being no shipping or printing costs involved. I find reading on the Kindle to be easier, especially for non-fiction, when I like to highlight and make notes.

My kids wanted nothing to do with the Kindle, when I suggested they might try it. They wanted “real” books. My wife was dubious, as well.

And Watch Kindle Kill The Idea Of Family Book Lending

Now my wife loves it, especially how she can catch up on a book through her iPhone. In fact, when I mentioned I’d read something interesting in the Steve Jobs biography that I purchased for my Kindle, she said she’d like to read it when I was done.

Oops, no can do. Unlike a real book (around $18 from Amazon right now), the Kindle edition I purchased for $15 can’t be lent to her.

Sure, some Amazon books can be lent to others. But so far, only one of the nine Kindle books I currently own have this option. As for the one that I can lend, I can do that once. After that, no more lending, to my understanding.

Lending is entirely up to the publishers, and the publishers, despite charging real book prices aren’t providing real book benefits, such as the ability to send the book to whomever you want, much less resell the book.

Meanwhile, my youngest son just started his first Kindle book. Not having an Amazon account of his own, my wife bought it through her account. And so the clutter of child purchases in parent accounts begins.

Where’s The Family Account?

To be fair, as far as I can tell, Amazon accounts have no age restriction. If we want our children to have their own virtual libraries, we can create accounts for both of them. But I’d still argue that the Kindle still isn’t designed for kids, and it certainly isn’t family friendly.

Our children, like those in many families, are close in age and like to share books. Given that most Kindle books don’t appear to be lendable, that’s a big strike against traditional family lending.

A workaround solution is to have one account that everyone in a family uses to share books. Then, siblings and spouses can all easily share books with each other. Of course, this also means children have pretty easy access to adult books, and that’s something that parents might not want.

Where’s The Sign-In For Tablets?

Somewhat related, our growingly tablet-oriented world hasn’t caught up with what computer-based world has long allowed, the concept of separate sign-ins.

Both Windows and the Mac allow for the same computer to be used by different people, each with their own account. A family can share the same computer without stepping on each others settings.

But what if a mother wants to let her child use her iPad? There’s no way to “sign-out” and sign the child in, to view their own menus and apps (trust me, plenty of parents would kill for this feature).

Similarly, what if a Kindle is being shared by a family, but each family member has their own Amazon account? You have to deregister the Kindle from the current account and then reregister it to the new one.

That’s a pain, and one that just gets worse when you’re dealing with the Kindle Fire that does more than just books, because now you’re losing settings for email and other non-Amazon accounts that might be linked to installed apps.

Allow Transfers Or Family Lending, Please

My headline is exaggerated. I don’t really think Amazon or Apple hate families. I also know they struggle with some absurd restrictions that content owners impose.

But still, it shouldn’t be this hard. Kith and Kindle from O’Reilly Radar was talking about the need for a “Friends & Family” plan for the Kindle back in 2007. Here we are in 2011, and the situation hasn’t improved.

The ideal solution is that if you buy an app or an ebook, you also buy the right to permanently transfer that purchase to someone else. That’s how things work in the real world; in the digital world, where the physical costs are less, why shouldn’t the same rights apply?

At the very least, I wish Apple and Amazon would think more about the concept of family accounts, so that a purchase could be delivered or registered to one of several designated “family” devices, especially for when you’re dealing with younger children.


  1. says

    This is your fault for participating in such a controlled environment. Do not buy books that have DRM, especially if you are paying full price for them – that’s ridiculous (and stupid for the authors too).
    Use an open phone, not the Iphone and so on.

  2. says

    I bought my son an Ipod for Christmas a few years ago, he had his itunes account on my computer, then when he got his own computer we tried to move it over. What a mission it was and to be honest it has never worked correctly again and he lost lots of settings apps and music. After this when I was choosing my new phone I went for a Blackberry over anything to do with apple as its far too restricting. I am a designer and (against all the mac designers out there) I chose PC. Why? because I am not one for status, I want to be able to upgrade my machine myself and I want it compatible with the rest of the world.

  3. says

    Good points.

    But I won’t buy a Kindle on principal. Ever buy a book, read it, and resell it, or give it to a friend? Or just give it away?

    And as Danny Sullivan notes, Amazon hoses us for much the same price for the digital as the print. I’ve even seen Kindle versions cost more than the print. And for academic work . . . Well, there’s the pathetic excuse for graphics that Kindle offers — grossly over-compressed. Terrible. The rendering of charts and graphs is so bad that I have seen them made unreadable, even factually wrong on Kindle.

    And there’s pagination. Forget about citing a Kindle work (yeah, I know there’s a citation numbering scheme).

    But the thing that gets me most is the pricing. Years ago, as the e-books were initially arriving, we were told again and again how prices would be lower because costs would be lower. Amazon and others either lied then or they’re lying now.

    And I can still mark up a text, underline, take notes by hand faster than I can on an ebook.

  4. says

    Danny – I have a very similar complain related to Netflix. I would love to see multiple sub-accounts created within our main account, where our kids could save streaming options for viewing on their TV, without cluttering my view for our main TV (which is only used by my wife and I). Drives me crazy. Simple fix. Just consider families and design for our use, too, please.

  5. Tim Dineen says

    Thanks for posting this Danny.

    I am struggling with the same issue, though our family is new to the Amazon family of products. I just purchased two Kindle Fires, one for each of my kids. I’m hoping to setup their devices this weekend so they can use them out of the box on Xmas, but I’m torn on how to configure our account(s).

    I will have a First grader and a toddler to serve through an account of some kind, on top of my own use of the Amazon Cloud Service for audio storage, a so-far disconnected Audible account and etc. The kids aren’t going to like my music or books. Indeed, they won’t even like each others choices as one is half the age of the other. I was hoping your post would be a “how to” because I could use some advice.

    I appreciate your raising this issue – hopefully these providers will pay attention/wakeup/fix. The company seems to be doing everything else right these days, from A to Z ;), but the Fire is sure to bring Amazon’s non-shipping related services into the homes of many more and some resolution is needed.

  6. says

    Not only we need a family account, we also need a rating system and a way to lock out apps we do not want our kids to play with. Think about this… what if the next ipad could have a finger reader that would switch accounts on the fly, right? That would be cool…

  7. Seamus says

    Cmon, guys. You’re complaining because you have to *see* your kids’ apps, movies, whatever. Give your kids their own screen on the iPad, then just don’t swipe to it.

  8. says

    This issue is only going to grow in importance. When only early adopters had these devices, solo use was acceptable. Now that the devices are going mainstream, conflicts between spouses and parents/kids are going to grow exponentially.

  9. says

    Great article.

    I’m having the same challenge with a Kindle for my 11 year old. It seems the best thing is to create a separate account, then add gift cards to the account and remove the credit card.

    Don’t forget Spotify either. They currently have no kind of ratings system so imagine what happened when my 8 year old was search for Cee Lo Green songs…

  10. rreay says

    I agree, tablets should have multiple account support. Everythingelse you want is handled just fine by iTunes Home Sharing.

  11. says

    Loved your post. Good to have someone list the problem in such a clear manner.

    I think the reason why iPad (and indeed all tablets) don’t have multi-user login is because of the way they evolved – from mobile phones, a very individual device, instead of from computers which are frequently shared between users.

    As for Kindle, I order loads of books from Amazon but refuse to move to ebooks for all the reasons described in comments above. My usual argument: why should I pay more than the usual paperback for a product which is cheaper to distribute, much more restricted in use, and is frequently buggier.

  12. Nilo says

    If your wife want to read your Amazon book In her iPhone, or iPad, just install the kindle app. You can read both at the same time.

  13. David says

    There’s a related problem when you die, all that digital media goes with you to the big library in the sky. Some people accumulate huge valuable libraries over a lifetime. It’s not just monetary value but the sentimental value of those treasured old literature, music, movies and someday classic apps. My kids have loved reading some of the tattered old books from my childhood and even a few from my parents. In a digital DRM world all that just dissapears. Without inherited books or public library lending, our kids early reading would be very limited.

  14. Ziv says

    Danny et al:

    There’s a pretty easy solution for passing Kindle books within the family: if you have multiple Kindles registered to the same account, you can all read the books simultaneously. In this particular context, that’s even better than lending :)

    And remember that you can change which account your Kindle’s registered to pretty easily, so even if you’ve been using seperate Amazon accounts, you can still swap back and forth with the actual libraries.

    Not as handy as an explicit family account, but it’s pretty darn close, particularly if you order with this in mind.

  15. LuVogt says

    Danny – they love families. They love to have every member of the family have their own devices. Not supporting device level logins is their way to force you to buy more devices. Because you will, to avoid the inevitable fights that ensue in a #devices<#people environment

  16. Phil Culmer says

    One answer is to use both – I buy keepers in dead tree format, and fill my reader with CC and PD work, and a daily or two. Plenty to read, and I get full use of the stuff that I pay for, as I don’t buy ebooks with DRM – just ones that are portable.

  17. Andrew says

    While there are a bunch of valid gripes about the iTunes ecosystem particularly in regard to billing (and the lack of multi-users on iPads), I wanted to point out that you can actually transfer or lend apps.

    All you need to do is authorize the device for both accounts the original one where the app was purchased and then the new one. The old apps will work and can be updated with a password authorization, and the new apps will belong to the new account. I currently have apps from 3 different accounts on my iPhone, most my own, but some I took from family so I didn’t have to pay for them again. It’s as easy as transferring the file from iTunes to a thumb drive. Hope that helps!

  18. Nicola Scodellaro says

    This post is ill researched to say the least: iTunes has something called FAMILY SHARING, that does exactly that. Not to mention that Apple has always had ‘family packs’ of their software with multiple licenses at a reduced price for machines in the same household. Also, iOS actually *has* a rating system and the possibility to restrict access to certaing kinds of apps or contents. Reading through the article is unnerving because almost everything is already there, but it seems that nobody has taken the time to look for it.

  19. Tim Dineen says

    @Nicola – if you’re right, then what I’d suggest is that the average user/dad has no clear what of knowing that the functions exist. I certainly didn’t and I’m in the tech space as is (obviously) the author of this post.

    I’m reading the responses to this article looking for exactly such advice – so thank you to @Ziv and @Andrew – and hopefully some others will add help too.

    If folks like us don’t really get that there is a method to do this then the general public will have no clue and will be struggling with the issues this post gets at. Rather than dismiss this outright, as you just did, I’d suggest listening to the voice of the typical dad/user expressed herein.

  20. says

    Nicola, you’re talking about iTunes Home Sharing:

    I’ve found Home Sharing a very nice way to stream content from an iTunes library to my Apple TV or to another computer with iTunes. However, I’ve not known it as a way to share apps.

    The page does talk about transferring apps, but I’m pretty sure it’s designed let you transfer apps from a computer to a device that is logged into the same iTunes account — you can’t simple transfer the app to another account.

    Andrew, thanks for that. I saw a similar thing when I switched my son to his own iTunes account. All the apps on his phone, which was previously my wife’s, continued to work. But when upgrading them, they demanded her password.

    That’s the catch — you have to handover your Apple password to someone else — and as the discussion on Google+ about this article noted:


    That’s kind of like handing over more keys than you might want to give.

  21. Asnyder says

    Homesharing allows both streaming and copying of any content as long as the appleid for the content is authorized for the target machine. Just select the content or app in the homeharing list and click the import button on the lower right in itunes when view the homesharing libraries. It will copy the content to your library and the. It can be syncd.

    As noted above, you could do the same copying with a tumb drive. The key is to authorize he purchasers apple id on the target machine. You can have up to 5 machines authorized per id. We have 5 in our family with 4machines and use this method to share apps.

    The drawback is that to update the app, you have to know the password of the purchaser or recopynthe content from he purchasers library via the same methods. This is all likely to reduce people sharing with people outside their family or close friends.

    I however agree there is along way to o for more family friendly design. Parental controls are sort of good, but could be better. Sharing of accounts should be better. Id rather see one master id and multiple child ids managed by the master and automatically content owned by the master etc. apple at leastnis likely constrainedby some of the content license agreements they make. Look at itunes mach where ipt is one apple id per machine to us that. No way to create a shared cloud library of music easily. From wha i can tell, at least apple has some sharing among all devices and can be configured for families in some way. Not perfect but better than the plays for sure stuff or other custom drms that have been in he market.

  22. Thomas says

    Try a chrome book? A tablet with multi user support is hopefully not far away but for the interim chrome books are really nice.

  23. JPF says

    About the apps : you can share them on any device, as long as it is on the same itunes… You can have different accounts on a given device. The only annoying thing is to have to re-enter your password(s) each time you switch accounts.
    For example, you can have an account for you, another one for your wife, and a third one for one of your kids. Each one buys their own apps, just do it on the same computer/itunes, switching accounts (will be easier). Then, when you sync a device, you pick which apps you want to sync, regardless of the account 😉
    About Apple and Amazon’s strategies when it comes to books and movies, i believe it is not their doing, but the big editing companies (music, books). It is a way to reassure them, so they will allow the distribution rights for digital contents. Else, they would resist until their last breath. It is a phase, it won’t last : a more rational market will emerge, when everyone will understand that digital is the way things are going to be…

  24. Paul Harvey says

    May be these companies think Kids need to be playing with real toys or god forbid spending time outside in nature instead of pretending to do these thing on a computer.

    Serriously I am very conserned about the society we are creating when I see Fisherprice bringing out a cover for the Iphone so that babies can use the latest app. I know its a pain having the apps on you account but may be kids need to be doing something else. Lets face it these things are very addictive and there is a lifetime to feed the habit, may be 13 is young enough.

  25. Nathania Johnson says

    We set up our kids with their own iTunes and Amazon accounts. We fund them with gift cards. It’s not quite as easy as setting up an account for adults, but not terribly difficult either. And there probably should be a certain level of difficulty to protect kids.

    As for books/sharing – while it would be ideal to have sharing, sometimes we just resort to the “old school” method of buying hardcover or paperback. But it’s not the worst thing in the world to borrow your loved one’s iPad or Kindle, either.

    In the end, it may not be Amazon and Apple who are the driving force behind the restrictions, but publishers.

  26. stylofone says

    As soon as I buy a book from Amazon I strip the DRM from it. That solves all the lending problems!

  27. says

    I blogged about the same age-related issue with regard to my Google Chromebook. In that case, my minor child could not create a Google account, and so could only legally log in as a Guest. Logging in as a Guest, however, means that he could not get access to any Apps!

    I proposed the concept of a tethered ‘parent->child’ account, where you could create a child’s account and attach it to a parent’s account, who would bear any legal responsibility. It’s not the only solution, but at least it is *A* solution. It’s frustrating that this issue still exists online, since this sort of thing is handled everyday by parents in the ‘real world.’

  28. Ryan says

    @Paul Harvey – you can’t seriously think that children and/or parents down’t have the capability to use a device such as an iPad and ALSO play outside or with regular toys, can you? is your worldview that limited?

  29. says

    As someone who’s been teaching old relatives how to use new Kindles all weekend I have four complaints: 1) It’s hard to ‘gift’ things to the new device so that they’re already there *before* the n00b picks it up and 2) We now have at least five Amazon accounts for various Kindles linked to the same credit card. This means that, theoretically, we need five different Amazon prime subscriptions to consume stuff on Kindle Fires. I’d pay for a household amazon prime account. really I would. it would still be worth it. And 3) As someone with occasionally downloads things that… well, I wouldn’t want to ‘share’ virtually with my parents I would like to be able to divvy up the account, much like one used to be able to do with multi-DVD netflix accounts. The communal basket being books that we want to brag that we’ve read (Pynchon) and the hidden library being the ones that we don’t (Regency romance novels, for example). But a stupid-easy thing Amazon could solve today? SEARCH in the goldurn library. Yes, search. I have 350 books right now, which probably puts me in the upper echelons of consumers. I can’t find anything. I can’t sort by book type or category or name or anything. Which means I have to scroll. And scrolling is slow and frustrating. The more stuff we put on these things, the more we need to be able to organize them in some fashion, beyond title, author and ‘recent.’ Really. It’s something *they* probably can do in their system. Why can’t I?

  30. Don Fotsch says

    As co-creator/inventor of PayPal’s Student account (http://tinyurl.com/2aeef7q), it’s interesting to note that banks and brokerage firms have no sense of family either. The PayPal Student account was modeled after the family success of the original AOL account, “1 account, seven screen names”. At the time, that was ideal for both small businesses and families. This experience has the highest NPS rating of any experience ever delivered by PayPal!

  31. Chris D says

    You’re talking about these inconveniences as though they’re not on purpose, which is very generous of you, but wrong-headed. The lack of lending and other features are very much on purpose, part of the industry’s slowly-successful attempt to turn media into something we license and not something we own. It’s not just content producers who gain from this: Apple and Amazon are completely on board, because they also gain from having to make multiple purchases rather than being able to share. (See, you bought all those iOS apps a second time.)

    This isn’t anyone’s incompetence or laziness. This is a business model.

  32. says

    We could add Netflix to the list of companies which present challenges for a family that wants to share one account….

    Received this today from Netflix. Needless to say neither my wife nor I watched Hannah Montana…..

    Survey: How was the Picture and Audio Quality?

    Dear Andrew,

    You recently watched Hannah Montana: Season 2: “Yet Another Side of Me”. To help us ensure a great experience for all members, would you take a moment to tell us about the picture and audio quality?

  33. Steve Myers says

    Only thing I will add is that the Kindle app enables multiple accounts to be linked to the same device. The iPad I’m using now is registered to me and my wife; both of our books show up on the home screen. I guess the physical Kindle doesn’t allow that.

  34. says

    Good post and I plan to commment on the area I know most about – the attck of the kids! :) . Its amazing but true regardless of who companies actually intend these devices to be targetted at – the kids will always have a interest. This is simply due to them growing up in a world were the internet and smartphones are of standard. And yes I am in total agreeence the Kindle will kill the book – just as Tesco and the other big boys – killed off the milk man! But theres no flies on Amazon or Apple they are making profits – and the only changes they are interested are ones that will increase their profits – the way of the world.

  35. says

    Good post and I plan to comment on the area I know most about – the attack of the kids! :) . Its amazing but true regardless of who companies actually intend these devices to be targeted at – the kids will always have a interest. This is simply due to them growing up in a world were the internet and smartphones are of standard. And yes I am in total agree the Kindle will kill the book – just as Tesco and the other big boys – killed off the milk man! But there’s no flies on Amazon or Apple they are making profits – and the only changes they are interested are ones that will increase their profits – the way of the world.

  36. Matthew O says

    We went through the same thing with Lis’ iPad this week. For now we’re simply using one shared iTunes account, and that works.

    My beef is with Google Music. Why can’t I link two profiles to one music library? It took 72+ hours to upload my music library…and now they want me to do that again to get her music account going? Then, how do I set it up to automatically sync new music to the library? This really shouldn’t be that hard…do they really think that spouses/families don’t share music? Would be really easy to simply have an option to link the library to another Google account (I’d be fine if they limited it to linking to only one other person).

    As for eBooks…no thanks, I’ll stick with paper. Had that discussion with my father yesterday. There’s just something special about having books lying around…being able to mark them up, loan them to friends, give them to friends, etc.

  37. Alan says

    As for gay people, they don’t have the benefit in law, tax and as a family. The “family” thing you mentioned is just what gay people want. Now we realize how inconvenient the whole thing is…

  38. Contagious says

    Really interesting concept but I am afraid Apple would be in too much trouble for bleeding children of their pocket money. It’s part of the ease of wallet access which ensures their continued success

  39. Jo-Ann Croft says

    While a little late to this discussion, I would like to point out that as far as Amazon (and and all other e-reader suppliers) are concerned, they are seriously restricted by the publishers’ views on copyright. Publishers have been fighting in court for over 20 years trying to establish that passing on a book is against the copyright. They have insisted that used book stores are illegal, and even letting a family member read a book you purchased is against the law.

    Until they change their viewpoint that these type of actions cut into their sales (disproved by Baen Books Free e-book Library’s effect on back list book sales), I don’t see e-books becoming share-able.