Matthew Fitzsimmons

Thoughts on a Multi-User iCloud Setup

I've run into a few issues when getting iCloud set up in a usable format for my wife and me to use, so I figured I'd write about it and help ease the pain for some of you.

Our setup includes a Mac laptop for each of us, and an iMac for me. We each have an iPhone 4S, and we share an iPad. There are a few things you need to decide about your setup before you know how you want to proceed. Knowing some of the limitations of iCloud will help you decide that.

I'm assuming that you have some information you want to have the same as your spouse (address book, for example, and perhaps a shared calendar) and other information you don't (personal calendar, perhaps).

The easiest way to go about this in my experience is to have one iCloud account that you both share, and then individual iCloud accounts for each user. Here are my reasons (more or less):

  1. We've been using the same address book for a long time. There appears to be no good way to share address books across users with iCloud, so we need a joint account for that.
  2. We've been using individual calendars for a while, but syncing them to each other's computers via MobileMe so we can see each other's events. The problem is that we also get each other's notifications. With separate iCloud accounts, we can have our own calendar and share them with the other person. They can then set the shared calendar to not show notifications.
  3. If you only have one iCloud account that's shared, you'll run into problems with other services like Find my Friends, so you'll need separate Apple IDs for those at the very least, so you may as well have separate iCloud accounts and have more flexibility.

When going about setting this up, I started running into little issues which were mostly related to what Apple makes available for primary iCloud accounts vs what they make available for secondary iCloud accounts. You'll have to think through this a little bit before you decide whether you want to use the shared iCloud account for the primary or the secondary.

  1. On a Mac, Bookmarks, Photo Stream, Documents & Data, Back to My Mac, and Find My Mac are only available on the primary iCloud account.
  2. On iOS, Photo Stream and Documents & Data are the only two that are only available on the primary account.

So I thought through some of this, and came down on the side of making our shared iCloud account the primary, and our individual accounts the secondary. What this means is:

  1. We have to have one shared Photo Stream.
  2. We have to have shared Documents & Data.
  3. Back to My Mac and Find My Mac are all on one account.

We also put Find my iPhone on the shared account so we can find all the devices in one place.

I mostly went this route because I wanted a shared Photo Stream. If we went the route of having separate accounts, that might be nicer in some ways just between the phones and computers, but would start to get awkward when dealing with the one shared iPad. Also, having Back to My Mac on separate accounts would make it harder for me to snag a file off my wife's computer, although I'm usually on the home network with her laptop, so that's not necessarily a big deal.

###The big Siri Gotcha

Now after all this, there's one thing that sneaked up and caused some pain. Siri wants to know who you are, so that it can tie relationships to your address book entry. If you are sharing an address book with your spouse, Siri will change this setting to be the same on both phones. After messing around for a bit, I figured out the only fix is to use a contact for Siri that is not in the shared address book. I did this by turning on address book syncing for the secondary iCloud accounts, which don't actually have any contacts in them other than our basic iCloud info. Then I used those contacts to set up Siri because those addresses are not shared between my wife and me.


I'm starting to think there may be a little hitch in the near future with the way I've set this up. As more apps start using iCloud syncing, we could start running into conflicts with things like saved game data, which would be a problem, particularly for Plants vs. Zombies.

If you have any further questions about the setup, ping @fitzage on Twitter and I'll try to update the article accordingly.

October 17, 2011