iOS 11 solves one of the biggest issues with having multiple Apple devices in your family

Iphone x (smaller)Justin Sullivan/GettyiOS 11, shown here running on the new iPhone X, has a cool new iCloud feature.

The new version of iOS, the operating system that underlies the iPhone and iPad, solved an annoying problem in my family.

As the family IT administrator, one of my jobs is to make sure each of the devices we own is backed up. That task just got a lot easier with iOS 11.

Syncing my own iPhone was already simple. In recent years, I’ve just backed it up to iCloud, Apple’s cloud service.

We take lots of photos and have a huge archive of older digital pictures that date back nearly 20 years. Wanting to make sure they were all preserved in their original resolutions, I signed up several years ago for the largest iCloud account I could get. That was 1 terabyte when I signed up, but Apple this summer expanded it to 2 terabytes at no extra cost.

A matter of sharing

While the extra iCloud storage took care of my phone and the family iPad linked to my account, my wife’s and son’s devices were another matter.

Apple didn’t allow users to share their iCloud storage with anyone. So, although I had a copious amount of space in Apple’s cloud, I couldn’t allocate it to backing up my son’s phone or my wife’s iPad. That meant I had to figure out how to back up their devices separately.

Apple allocates 5 gigabytes in iCloud to every user. But I knew that wasn’t going to be nearly enough space to back up my wife’s phone, especially with all of the pictures she had stored on it. So since I didn’t really want to pay for a second iCloud account just for her phone and iPad, I went old school, and configured those devices to sync with our home computer via iTunes.

That system never seemed to work well, however. The devices were supposed to sync to the home computer every time they were plugged in and connected to our home’s WiFi network, but they didn’t do so consistently. Sometimes, if I wasn’t paying attention, they might go weeks or months without backing up.

My son’s phone posed another problem. When I set it up, I configured it to just sync to iCloud. But I didn’t sign him up for extra storage — again, I didn’t want to pay for another account — so he quickly filled up his 5-gigabyte allotment. After that, he repeatedly got notifications from Apple saying he was out of iCloud space and there was no room for a backup. That was frustrating for him and annoying for me when he complained about it.

Thankfully, iOS 11 solved both of these problems.

One of its less-publicized features is it allows users to share their iCloud storage space with members of their families. After configuring my account to share it with my wife and son, I now have both of their phones and my wife’s iPad backed up to iCloud.

It was relatively easy to set up. To share their storage, users with paid iCloud accounts just have to turn on “family sharing” in their iOS settings, add family members to their accounts, and then turn on the option to share their iCloud space. By turning on the iCloud storage sharing, they will automatically send out notifications to family members that they can use the space.

I went through all those steps on my wife’s devices. I then turned off the option to back them up to iTunes and turned on iCloud backups. They have been synced to the cloud ever since, and I haven’t had to worry about them.

A painful transition

IPhone 5Getty Images/Justin SullivanMy son’s iPhone 5, which looked a bit like this one, didn’t want to use my iCloud storage.

My son’s phone, though, was more difficult to deal with. Although he received a notification inviting him to share my iCloud storage, his phone wouldn’t switch over directly to it from his free 5-gigabyte account, no matter what I tried.

According to Apple, the problem I ran into was a rare glitch that affected “a very limited number of people.” The company said it fixed the problem after I encountered it.

But before I heard back from the company, I ended up working around the problem. First, I bought my son a new phone. That may seem a drastic solution, but there were bigger reasons for it than iCloud problem. He had a hand-me-down iPhone 5 that ran slowly, and exhausted its battery quickly. It also couldn’t be upgraded to iOS 11, which I guessed might explain why he couldn’t share my iCloud storage with me.

That said, getting the new phone didn’t solve the problem. I ended up upgrading him, temporarily, to a 50-gigabyte iCloud account to back up his phone. For some reason, it took a while for that change to take effect. Once it finally did, though, I was able to switch him, finally, over to sharing my iCloud storage. Now, he’s no longer getting messages saying he’s out of space — and I don’t have to worry about whether his phone is backed up.

The most important aspect of this new feature is that despite sharing your storage space with your family, Apple keeps everyone’s information separate and private. I can’t see my wife’s backups from my device, for example, and we can’t see pictures stored in iCloud Photos or documents stored in iCloud Drive unless the person specifically decided to share those with the family.

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