I am a stalwart PC user. I know and love the Windows operating system, but over the last few years my family, like many others, has become more and more dependent on our Apple iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPods). Our used iPhones have become iPods for our kids, and we have an iPad the entire family shares. In what seems like the blink of an eye, my family has become Apple-powered, and my wife and I were unprepared. My wife asked me the other day, “How can we manage how the kids are using the internet and apps on our devices and keep them safe?” My response was, “Let me find out.” I have done my research and now I would like to share the fruits of my labor with you.
The first thing that you need to decide is who needs an Apple ID. Apple IDs are used to log you in to do all things Apple: buy/download apps, purchase music and movies from iTunes, and use iCloud. For my wife and I, it was easy – she and I each needed an ID. We figured that since our children are very young, they don’t yet need the level of independence an Apple ID would give them in the Apple world of “stuff.” We use our Apple IDs to keep our devices backed-up in the cloud and to distinguish who is who in our shared iCloud Calendars. This is a great feature for an Apple-powered family. Create a calendar in iCloud and share it with the entire family to keep track of everyone’s schedules. When someone updates the calendar, it shows up on every device instantly.
Calendars aren’t the only thing we can share. We use cloud services like Skydrive to share files and documents, with iOS 6 we share photo streams from our devices over iCloud, and we share our music and movies using iTunes. I found that built right into iTunes are features that allow me to share all of the music and movies I have on my computer with all of the other computers and devices I have in the house. I don’t have to buy that “Party Rock” song 5 times for everyone to listen to it. Apple has 2 ways of sharing your digital media on your home network: iTunes sharing and Home Sharing. Turning on iTunes sharing allows up to 5 computers on your network to watch or listen to any music or videos in your iTunes library. The only hitch is that you can’t take the file with you. Home sharing is a little different. When you enable Home Sharing, streaming movies is extended to your iOS devices and to Apple TV. You can also copy between computers, great for taking that new movie or playlist on a trip, using your laptop. You will also be able to copy media imported from a home share to your iOS device and take it with you. The iOS devices don’t seem to count against your authorized computer count.
Now let’s talk about the kids. iTunes and iOS devices have some very handy parental control features. Parental controls on your computer can be found on the Parental tab under preferences in iTunes and under Restrictions on the General page of the Settings app on an iOS device. In iTunes, you can disable access to things like the store and iTunes Radio. You can restrict access to apps, music, and movies based on content ratings and lock it all up with a password so kids can’t change the settings. iOS devices allow you to hide apps you don’t want kids to have access to, in addition to the same types of content restrictions as iTunes. You can disable in-app purchases or disable access to the store all together. These are just a few of the settings available to make iTunes and iOS devices safer for your kids. If you have created Apple IDs for your kids but don’t want to give them unlimited access to your credit card to buy apps and music, you can use the iTunes Store Allowance to purchase apps and media. At any time, you can go back and change the monthly amount, suspend, or cancel the allowance. The one place that iOS devices seem to have fallen short in the parental control department is safe web browsing. For $3.99 from the app store, the Kid Safe browser app has the solution with all the safe web browsing features you could ever want.
Apple devices empower people to do things they never did before and now, as families get more ingrained in the Apple ecosystem of devices and content, Apple has empowered families to share, learn, entertain, and be entertained in a new way. Many people think that electronic devices are pulling people further apart, but with the right know-how families can learn and play and learn to play together in a new way that works with our digital age and do it safely. For more detailed instructions on how to setup home sharing, calendar sharing in iCloud, or parental controls, visit the blog @ jcbits.wordpress.com or ‘like’ us on facebook @ facebook/JacobsCompanyBITS, where I will be posting How-To tutorials.