Syncing family in the cloud - two ways to set up iCloud with your spouse

Ever since I started working mostly on my iPad I tried to take advantage of all the goodies that iCloud brings with it. Especially I wanted to improve "collaboration" with my wife - to share calendars and contacts together while still having our unique devices. Although we're true geeks over here and I have an iPad, my wife has an iPad mini and we both have iPhones and both have Macbook Airs and a Mac Mini, we are not THAT unique. Many couples and marriages have both iOS devices and Macs so this article might be very useful for you. It took me quite a while to get this setup right. Here goes:

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Why I wanted to share calendars and contacts with my wife

I've been a fan of syncing calendars and contacts already in the age of Nokia phones and infrared (do you remember what it was?). I remember putting my phone next to my laptop and hoping for the best. I didn't have to insert the contacts manually whenever I'd change a phone to a newer model. With iPhone we had the cable sync and later a MobileMe account (yes, I actually was paying for it). It worked great on a personal level.

However, when you're in a marriage, things get scheduled, you have more obligations (now with two kids, even more!) and because I work from home, my wife would assume I'd always be available for our family stuff. It was annoying to have her schedule a doctor's appointment in the middle of my conference call. Another problem were contacts. Questions like "Honey, do you have the number to that friend of..." were not uncommon. It had to stop.

I trust my wife. She trusts me. Let's have the same contacts and calendar information on all of our devices. As these are all iOS devices, let's do it via iCloud. This is how we did it.

iCloud ID, Apple ID and the works - how many you need and how many you can have?

Apparently you need an Apple ID (iCloud ID) for:

  • iCloud storage (data, photo stream)
  • Contacts, Calendar, Bookmarks and other settings
  • iMessage and Facetime
  • Apps and Music purchases

The thing is, you can have several Apple accounts for each of these things separately. You don't need to have "one iCloud/Apple account to rule them all". You can, but you don't have to. And that's the clue to more flexibility here.

A device needs to have one "mother" iCloud account

Each device (iPhone/iPad/iPod/Mac) needs to have one "mother" account - the main iCloud account that supports its data, photo stream, backups and such. And then you can set up additional accounts for calendars, contacts, iMessage, Facetime and purchases... if you like. Here's how it looks like on the iPad:

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There are two ways to set up family iCloud accounts

There are no "family iCloud" accounts per se, but you can mimic them in two ways:

  • Version 1 - you can set up your personal iCloud account as the "mother account" on your device and add a common iCloud account for additional syncing of contacts and calendars.
  • Version 2 - you can set up the same "mother" iCloud account on all family devices and personalize them with additional iCloud accounts on each of them (for iMessage and FaceTime).

Each version has its PROs and CONs. I initially set up my family's iCloud accounts as per version 1 and we had them like this for a few months. Last week we decided with my wife to change the setup to version 2. Here are some details:

Version 1 - Personal "mother" accounts with additional central account

We have three iCloud accounts - my wife's, mine and the "central" account. We use the central account (my old MobileMe account) as the account with our Address Book and Calendars. That's the basic setup.

Now, on each device that belongs to my wife I set up her iCloud account as the main account and mark that this device should sync everything with the iCloud except for Calendars and Contacts. I do the same for my devices.

Now, in each devices' section of "Mail, Calendars and Contacts" I add an additional iCloud account - our "common" iCloud account and tell the device to sync only Contacts and Calendars (and Reminders) there.

That's it. Now me and my wife see the same calendars and contacts but have separate iCloud accounts.

We also have a separate Apple account for Apps and Music purchases and I set this up on all of our devices, too (no need to buy music or apps twice, right?)

Benefits of this setup: You have separate bookmarks, separate data and separate photo streams. Sounds good, right?

Disadvantages of this setup: If you sync and backup to iCloud (and we do) and are running out of free 5GB space, you need to upgrade each account separately. It's more difficult to share photos (although now it's possible through shared photo streams)

Version 2 - central "mother" account with additional personal accounts

This is the other way round and this is something we switched to last week. First off, we wanted to share the same iCloud account for backups now that we have an additional iPad mini backing up to the iCloud and both of our iPhones. Second thing is that we wanted to have the same photo stream. My wife said she wouldn't mind seeing in the photo stream occasional screenshot of one of our apps or my other work-related stuff.

The thing is, that from now on we don't have to worry who's taking pictures of our family - if it's me or my wife with her iPhone. The photos go to the same stream (and they are also streamed to the iPhoto on our home Mac mini).

The same applies to "documents in the Cloud". I'm more of an iWork guy (and I use AI Writer for text files) and my wife is more of an MS Office kind of girl. We don't use the same apps so there is no problem with documents overlap.

I understand with this setup we give up a little more "privacy" but how much privacy do you really need in a marriage? We trust each other and the convenience of synced contacts, calendars and photo streams is enormous. We're loving it.

Apart from that I set up our personal iCloud accounts as accounts for iMessage and Facetime. This way my wife has the same unique and personal iCloud account on her iPhone and iPad mini and MacBook Air and I have my personal iCloud account set up on all of my devices.

Recently my wife complained a little about the amount of contacts I accumulated over the years (especially business-wise) so I decided to move these to the address book on my personal iCloud account. This way our "common" Address book is slimmer and consists of mostly people we frequently talk to.

Benefits of this setup: More integration, common photo stream and backing up all of the devices to the same iCloud account - if we need more space, we can upgrade just one "mother" account.

Disadvantages of this setup: Less privacy as you share photo streams and documents.

You can set up the iCloud accounts for family usage - and there are two ways to do it - choice is yours

We tried both versions and we decided to stick with version 2 for more convenience and better "family collaboration". We're loving the setup so far. With iCloud it's so great that everything just works and our devices are in sync. The benefits of not having to ask your spouse about "that phone number" or scheduling conflicts in the calendar are great and make our lives more convenient.

Do you sync calendars or contacts with your spouse? How do you set up your iDevices or Android phones so that you can be more "in sync"? Any tips? Something I missed?

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 (ipad,iphone)

Rafal Sobolewski
Nov 13, 2012 20:41
And what about taking pictures of something you would like to buy for a gift for your wife? The shared photo stream could ruin the surprise ;)
TesTeq
Nov 14, 2012 08:03
I'm still waiting for my iPad mini (ordered on 2012-10-26)... The Apple courier was recently seen near Krakow. As far as I know he is traveling by foot. :-)
Michael Sliwinski
Nov 14, 2012 09:55
It's hard to get the iPad mini from Apple but many retailers have them. I got mine in Media Markt - snatched the last one in stock! :-) Hope you'll get yours soon! You'll love it BTW :-)

TesTeq
Nov 14, 2012 11:18
I'm stuck with Apple - because I've ordered the iPad mini with free laser engraving. Next time I will cut "TesTeq" myself on the back cover using a big nail! :-)