Apple One Family - the fight; the experience; Apple Support?
Warning: this is an Apple-centric post. If you don’t care about Apple, then please do move along.
A major new-parent-in-the-21st-century concern is that of screen time, online services, and giving your kids access to stuff that you as a parent never had. YouTube is a great example - was literally not a thing when I was growing up and yet I’ve had to ban it in my household because my young kids were losing days and brain cells to it.
The ability therefore to give your kids access to screens in a controllable way has always been an issue but one that Apple have claimed to have solved (for a fee, obvs) if you do subscribe to their kool aid.
I’ve subscribed to their hardware and OSX / macOS for many years… I despise Windows computing (Linux is great and all but I need a bit more stability in my daily driver) but had never committed to their iCloud cloud ecosystem.
Strangely enough, this changed when I saw an in-laws’ smarthome setup (centered around Google Home) which worked well - and so of course I decided I wanted some of that for us. One issue of home automation is how to speak to it, and in their case they had various mics dotted about the house; however I wear an Apple watch already so having Siri control some home stuff and subscribing to the Homekit way seemed like a no-brainer.
The experiment in to that though is the topic of a different post.
This is all about what happened when I decided to drink the Apple subscripton kool aid.
We had never subscribed to any of the individual Apple services (other than a little bit of storage) but as we found ourselves spending more on Netflix, Spotify, games and so on - the sense of using Apple One (which bundles Apple subscriptions together) seemed to grow. You can get access to Apple Music, TV, iCloud+ and Arcade (and more stuff if you want to pay more) and share that with family members with just one low, low fee.
Spying an opportunity to simplify things which in combo with our mostly Apple home and experimenting with HomeKit seemed to make sense.
(There is in reality a lot more to it than this - including considering the device(s) that our children needed for schooling and other things…. but that is beyond the scope of this.)
The point is - after resisting for a long, it seemed to make sense to just bend over and go all in with Apple. The promises were salacious - we could all share a range of useful services, but also things like having proper handling of child accounts so that I (and wife) as parents could fully control screen time, content and app installation in a sensible way.
So I splashed out an Apple One Family (trial) and for the hell of it new iPads all round.
The setup of the Family is (or at least should be) relatively straight-forward. The idea is simple - I can be the ‘Organiser’ or the family plan, and then I can invite other family members, be it Adult members or children (where special attention is paid to kids 13 or under.) I can nominate Adult members to be Parents/Guardians.
You can then control a lot of the specific behaviour (e.g., sharing apps between the family.)
Inviting my wife with her pre-existing iCloud account was simple and just worked.
Creating the child accounts - not so much.
Theoretically you can create new child iCloud accounts as part of the setup of the iPad. It is all designed to work this way, but for me it did not work. This may be a very specific issue to do with my region (we are Guernsey - not really the UK but the de facto place for it - and it is really not unusual for most major services to struggle with the concept) but it flat out refused to work - it got stuck over an allegedly invalid phone number (which very much was not invalid.)
Cue Apple support chat #1. This went about as well as I expected yielding no meaningful progress and ending with them promising me a call from a senior team member at 8am the next day. I literally did not hold my breath - but I could have done because lo and behold at 8am the next day a senior Apple diagnostician did indeed phone me (#2).
And we got it working - for no obvious reason. The very thing I had tried the night before which simply did not work then, somehow managed to start working whilst on the call. When I told them that.. their response? “Yep, sometimes that happens.”
(No seriously. The ‘invalid phone number’ screens on the iPad were not functional. You had no control. You could not edit the phone number. If you did the same from macOS you got exactly the same prompt. Except on macOS there was no option to provide a different phone number. Until speaking to support… when it ‘appeared’ ?)
So chalk up a good 3 hours to support to resolve an issue… but without any obvious clue as to why or how.
But nevertheless I could now create Child iCloud accounts and proceed with iPad setup. And funnily enough this proved, initially at least, to be a hot tip for doing this in the future. If you are setting up new devices then it makes a lot of sense to create the Child iCloud accounts under your Parental iCloud account first - because during setup of the iPad you can just choose the Child account to use - and the rest moreorless just works.
Except when it didn’t
So the new accounts were created and the new devices setup for the children. The features of the family plan mostly working - for instance if they went to the App Store to get a new game then it would correctly message me to ask for approval.
The main problem was that they did not have access to the Music, TV and Arcade subscriptions that came as part of Apple One Family. My wife’s account did - that was just fine. But on the children’s devices, Apple Music, App Store Arcade was just incessantly offering a new subscription to these services. And even trying to accept the offer simply didn’t work. There was no way to get the Chlid accounts to register that they had access to the subscriptions.
On my Apple Id it very clearly showed that they were shared. On their Apple Id it said they did not have access.
(#3) I spent time with Apple Chat Support again. No joy. (#4) I posted on the Apple Support Community. No responses. (#5) I downloaded the Apple Support App - this connected me to Apple Support via Messages. No joy. (#6) They scheduled a callback with me - which happened, and I spent 40 mins on a call with someone. They ultimately cut me off and never called back.
A huge amount of time was wasted as they ran through the basic troubleshooting steps. For the mostpart, I’m not certain they even understood what the issue was as they seemed to fixate on Purchase Sharing. There was a lot of signing in and signing out and restarting and so on.
They really did try hard, and the built-in screen sharing to iOS / iPadOS / macOS seems to work well.
But there is a fundamental issue where Apple 1st Line support seems to have very little clue what’s going on. They have no access to account info and a set of scripts to follow. Maybe this works for some calls; but as soon as it gets beyond the realm of the basic, it all falls over.
Figured it out
In my case I did figure it out, almost entirely by accident / exhausting options. For reasons that do not make sense, your Apple Id takes on different personas, depending on where it’s used. So in the main iCloud settings on the device, then the region was correctly set (for us) to UK / Guernsey.
However, within the profile area of the Music app, it had a region set to United States. I have no idea why. Either this was just the default, or during setup it didn’t know where Guernsy was and guessed… who knows. But by going in to this, changing the region to United Kingdom (since Guernsey does not exist as an option) which forced me to provide some dummy billing details (since these are child accounts; they have no billing options) and would you believe it… it all started working1.
(Sign out / in to Media & Purchases in Settings on the device seems to help.)
So now, Apple One Family does seem to work. And I do have very granular control over what the child accounts can access - age restrictions, content, specific apps, specific websites, screen time and immediate lockout. It’s exactly as it should be.
But I would challenge a normal person to get through these setup issues successfully. It is only because I am a stubborn methodical git (and work in tech) that I was able to get here by working through the various parameters, and ultimately stumbling on the fix.
And I’m sorry - full marks for effort, but Apple 1st and 2nd line support isn’t setup well - they exist, but they need far better training. I had 6 separate encounters with them, incurring at least 6h in time and they didn’t actually achieve anything. And for the engineer I spoke to where we were disconnected, they didn’t bother calling back… says a lot.
I suspect this is an edge case and so may not applicable to most. But maybe it will help someone. If so - check the regions. Good luck!
This is not a new cloud issue. I have experienced something very similar related to location/country with Microsoft Azure. It is a major problem for global connectiviy yet regional licensing. Forget security, it’s mostly why VPNs are a thing. ↩︎