Attention Apple: The iPad needs to support multiple users. Now make it so - Macenstein

Attention Apple: The iPad needs to support multiple users. Now make it so


As much as I hate it when my wife and kids manage to pry my iPad out of my death grip, I understand. It’s new, it’s cool, and everyone loves it. Apple truly created something new in the gadget space – something that’s not quite a netbook, and not quite an iPod touch. Yet unfortunately Apple has decided to treat this new appliance exactly as if it were just a big iPod, when in reality it is not. The iPad is not the individualized, handheld, go anywhere device that the iPod is – it’s really a more of a HOME appliance than a personal device. Sure, Apple may be pushing it as a Super Kindle right now, but it’s basically for playing games, surfing the web and watching videos. It’s more of a family-centered media device than a gadget that belongs to any ONE member of the family (at least MY family).

The problem is each member of the family wants to be able to do different things. We all want to have our own high scores in games, our own bookmarks in Safari, our own mail accounts, different apps arranged in different orders, and with different wallpapers behind them. The solution to this problem is easy: Apple need to enable multiple users on the iPad.

Sure, there’s the chance that enabling multiple users might go a little ways towards stopping households from buying TWO (or more) iPads, but in reality, the price of the iPad is currently enough to stop that for most people. Only the wealthiest of people with the brattiest of kids would buy an iPad for each member of their family, and I’m guessing those people still would, even with multiple users.

But what I’m talking about is the average family who has somehow convinced themselves there is room in their digital life for yet another Apple gadget. THOSE are the people who Apple needs to think of. Currently the iPad, as fun as it is, fails miserably at being the home digital hub it was designed to be (whether Apple knew it or not). The iPad is not simply a digital book. The uses of the iPad are limited only by the imagination of the developers who write apps for it, and it is this diversity of applications that has caused each member of my family to use the iPad in a very different way – From looking up recipes, to watching Netflix movies, to playing Plants vs Zombies – the iPad appeals to everyone. What DOESN’T appeal to everyone is one child picking up the iPad only to discover that the other child has beaten a level on a game he was playing, or worse, started that game over. Or that the only way my wife can check her email on the iPad is if she also can see all of MY email, and it’s horrible,horrible secrets.

Perhaps Apple is counting on the this annoyance eventually driving people to buy multiple iPads, but if so, they’ve misjudged the appeal of their own product. Apple needs to remember that just because the iPad can only be held by one person at a time does not mean it is only being used by one person. The iPad is not an iPod touch. It is something much larger (literally) and meant to enjoyed by multiple people. Make it so, Apple.

39 Responses to “Attention Apple: The iPad needs to support multiple users. Now make it so”
  1. This was one strong point and one big problem I thought may happen with the iPad. I hope they build it in soon (which means it won’t be available for another year).

  2. This is the one feature that would see me on the iPad in a heartbeat. I see it as a device that would live at the couch for everyone to use more so than a personal one I’d leave the house with. Alas, I’ll probably still buy one anyways, still hoping it makes it into a software update.

  3. m4tt says:

    i agree that the ipad is more like a laptop with out all the weight. Living in New York
    i have yet to see a single person walking around with one in their hand or reading a book on the subway. The other seemingly missed point is the only defense for the ipad is a 4 digit code. if i got one i don’t think i would be setting it up to check e-mail
    with out some way to password protect the account. The solution to all my grips would be multi user interface.

  4. Chris says:

    As an AAPL shareholder I hope this will never happen… it defeats the purpose of having you purchase one for every single member of your family. Matter of fact, skip just one unit for your couch – you need one for every room of your house – kitchen, bathroom, den, bedroom… eh, we all know you just want to hide your pr0n.

  5. Jonro says:

    That’s a very good idea; I hope the implementation wouldn’t be too difficult for Apple’s programmers. Its main purpose would be to keep data and preferences separate for each user. I assume that every user should have access to all apps and all books and music. Cancel that. If you have kids, there might be games, music and movies that you don’t want the kids to access. Mail accounts, Pages documents and game scores should also be kept separate for each user. I know that user spaces are an integral part of OS X and that the iPhone OS is OS X, but I don’t know if adding in user spaces would be a small job or a major overhaul to the iPhone implementation.

  6. Tina says:

    Not going to happen. Apple’s priority as a corporation is profit and that is what they base their decisions on. The price will come down to where it would be almost practical to have one iPad per family member but you will not see multiple user account support on the iPad.

    I’m just thankful that Apple hasn’t locked down the Mac as they have the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. At least not yet anyway.

    • Grimption says:

      This answer is shortsighted. We all understand that corporations are in the business of making money; the real question is, how do you maximize that amount? I submit that Apple would increase revenue (and do nothing to cost) by providing multi user functionality. There are more people will hold off on buying an ipad (e.g., me and my fiance) than there are those who will buy multiple copies.

      • Harry says:

        This is a real bummer! I expected to share the ipad in the family while being the system operator.

        Sorry Apple, there will be NO more ipads in this household.

  7. DCYorke says:

    Keep in mind, the iPad today runs version 3.2 of the OS. This is a minor update to version 3.1 which runs on the current iPhones. They made only a few small adjustments to the OS to make it applicable to the large iPad screen.

    iPhone 4 will be released on the iPhone this summer. There have been many complaints that it will not be made available to the iPad until the fall. But the reasoning is the same. iPhone 4.0 will never be on the iPad, but something like 4.1 or 4.2 will be. Once 4.0 is complete, it can then go to the iPad team where iPad-specific changes can be made. This is where we’ll see additions to iPhone OS that are both iPad-specific and big enough to warrant a full version number.

    It’s my guess that when OS 4 hits the iPad, we’ll see some new major features that weren’t really appropriate for the minor 3.2. I’m also hoping that printing will be on that list as the current process of transferring a document to the computer is quite silly.

  8. Matt says:

    You can probably use a longer passcode than 4 digits if you use the Apple utility described below.

  9. Jonny says:

    That is a good idea. I wonder if they might include that in the iPad version of iPhone OS 4.0 in the fall. But then that would be something we really want, and Apple never gives us that. 🙁

  10. emilio says:

    i think this is going out on a limb. it’s a decent idea, sure, but it’s very much out of line with the iPhone/iPad experience.

    first, yes, Apple won’t do it because they want you to buy more stuff.

    that aside, i think the stronger argument is this: it doesn’t belong in the iPhone OS. they are constructed to be personal devices, straightforward, simple, unambiguous. there’s no concept of a user, a permission set, or an ACL. the concept begs far more questions than i can think of advantages: could you switch on-the-fly? could users exchange data? could i transfer my user from one device to another? how does this sync with music and app authorization? how does syncing work at all? this is a lot bigger of a problem than just adding a login screen. the iPhone OS will no longer be a “just turn it on and use it” experience, and then, well, it won’t be the iPhone OS anymore.

    the better (read: realistic) option? figure out which apps REALLY need multiple users (i’d venture that it’s 20% or less, and they’re almost all games) and ask their devs to add multiple user support. you could also ask Apple to allow the 4.0 Game Center API to support multiple users per client, then ask your favorite game devs to support Game Center. iPhone OS 4.0’s app folders will also allow apps to be better segregated by genre or user. i’d say the only grey area is parental controls – perhaps allow certain app folders to be locked by an admin.

  11. Scott Gerber says:

    Finally, someone expresses the same feelings I’ve had about the iPad — it NEEDS multiple users.

    And even if it had multiple users, that wouldn’t necessarily stop a family from buying more than one. It would be more convenient to pick up the nearest iPad from the coffee table or kitchen and log in to check your email, etc.

  12. Carl says:

    Think about it….Apple is also positioning the iPad as a business/corporate and school device. If that is the case then these are areas that would require multi-user login, settings, etc.

    Lets face it, the profit margins for the iPad are believed to be around 52%. That means that Apple is already making fists full of cash on each device. Do they think that it will really make people purchase more iPads or hold off on purchasing one at all.

    I know I am the latter. I am planning to purchase a new MacBook and was considering adding an iPad to the shopping cart for full family use/sharing but I woke up this morning and realized that their was a problem with that and what about the content that is sync’d with iTunes….I think that might be the biggest issue, not that multi-users wouldn’t be hard to include in iPhone OS 4 (for all we know this is why the iPad update is coming in September and not this summer like it is for the iPhone/iPod Touch), the issue would be how to sync purchases from iTunes based off Apple’s agreements with the content providers.

    It might be OK to allow access to all apps for all users, except for parental control blocks, but I dont know if the same can be said about music, tv, and movies. Plus sync’n multi-users content would use a lot of space on a device that doesn’t have much to begin with – so it might make people upgrade to larger cap. iPads instead of just the 16GB model.

    Maybe if you setup multi-users on your iPad the device will sync the main users content, allow all applications for all users, and stream other non-main user accounts content via iTunes on their specific computer. They might be able to do that within the confines of their content deals with other companies.

  13. Bregalad says:

    I think lack of multi-user support will hinder sales. I’d get one for the living room, but my wife and I have separate email accounts, separate facebook accounts, etc. Those apps are currently implemented for a single user and so the device cannot be shared except to look things up on IMDb or the web. We aren’t going to spend $500 to do that.

  14. Dave-O says:

    Maybe you should hold your breath. I enjoy watching people turn blue in the face.

  15. Anonymoose says:

    This would require a DRASTIC change to the way you sync the iPad.

    This is not going to happen.

  16. Shunnabunich says:

    Interesting idea, and I agree both that Apple will never do this in a million years, and that this would be great to have (so perhaps someday we’ll see a reasonable implementation for jailbroken iPads). This is how I imagine it would be implemented by Apple.

    Bert and Ernie share an iPad (among many…many…other things). They both have modest music libraries and app collections, and they both pitched in for the roomy 64GB model, so they don’t have to worry about treading on each other’s toes.

    Ernie’s already synced his media and apps to the device from iTunes. Now, one thing Bert doesn’t exactly share is Ernie’s penchant for death metal and “HD” fart apps, so when he starts syncing his own stuff to the same iPad, iTunes asks him whether he’d like to overwrite what’s already there (tempting, but no), or set the iPad up for multiple users. He selects the latter, and iTunes uses the already-stored iTunes Store account information to create named accounts for both Bert and Ernie.

    Now, when he presses the Sleep/Wake button on the iPad, there’s a little button beside the slider, opposite the “slideshow” button, with the silhouette icon familiar to OS X users. When he presses it, a popover menu appears with Bert and Ernie’s names beside randomly-picked user pictures (which they can change later, in Settings). When Bert taps his name and slides the slider, he sees a message in front of his home screen asking him to set a passcode. Once he does that, he’s ready to use the iPad just as if he were the only user. (Even if he were to succumb to the urge to set Ernie’s passcode, too, and lock him out, Ernie would regain access as soon as he synced with his computer, just like how passcodes work on the iDevices already.)

    When either of them syncs the iPad with their iTunes libraries, iTunes syncs everything to the appropriate iPad user account automatically; there’s no need to add complication to the sync process, since iTunes has already kept separate libraries for separate people since forever. Likewise, when either of them makes a backup — say, as part of a routine sync — iTunes only backs up the content from their own account. If they get a second iPad, and, for some reason, set up multiple users on that one too, the same stuff is synced to the corresponding accounts on both iPads.

    If they’d recieved an iPad from the Fortune 500 company they work for as a work tool, their IT overlord could set it to use alphanumeric passwords and encrypted home folders and all that good stuff.

    Currently, iPhone OS stores App Store apps in /private/var/mobile/Applications (“mobile” is the name of the user account the iPhone OS uses), and iTunes media in ~/Media/iTunes_Control. It’s not TOO much of a stretch to imagine more than one such user folder, each with its own, independent Media and Applications folders.

  17. Shunnabunich says:

    A more secure variation on the above scenario: iTunes asks Bert to set his passcode when he first chooses to set up multiple users, and the iPad doesn’t allow Ernie’s account to be used until Ernie syncs with his own iTunes library again, at which point iTunes asks him to set his passcode. Potentially frustrating for people who seldom sync their devices, though.

  18. GlowingApple says:

    Agreed, multiple users would be a really nice feature. Then again I’d prefer that the iPad actually be a full fledged Mac rather than a stretched out iPhone. Yes, I realize that Steve didn’t want to make another netbook, but the iPad could be so much more if it wasn’t locked down.

    Oh, and love the Picard reference … it was a Picard reference, right; or am I just too much of a nerd?

  19. eddy says:

    I had a slightly different idea about this. It could be that I read something and want to show it to someone else. A family member, a colleague, a friend. I want to be able to hand over the device and not worry that the information I am willing to share is only a few taps away from the information I am not willing to share.

    In an ad-hoc way, I would want to lock out certain apps till I have the device back in my possession.

  20. imajoebob says:

    My seniments are similar to @eddy’s. At the least I want to be able to have a separate Work and Home login. Not to hide pr0n (you’re an idiot if you ever let that stuff touch anything that EVER connects to work), but to keep things simplified. I have also created temporary logins to my laptop when I needed to share my notebook or even (especially) when I’m making a presentation. I put anything I might need into the temporary user, and if I have to open “CustomerX” files there’s no chance they’ll see I’m also doing work for CustomerY.

    If Apple wants the iPad to become a true work tool they’ll have to start addressing these seemingly simple and obvious shortcomings. Or maybe the plan is to keep it a personal , giant iPhone for a while.

  21. iAmtheWarlus says:

    found this application – multiPad

    its a multi account app for jailBroken iPad’s

  22. Dannyboy says:

    i looked for this all over, and finally i found a little hope 🙂

    multiPad – iPad application to enable support for multi user accounts for the iPad
    they say its still a beta and that they will release it for jailBroken iPad’s some time soon

    see multiPad –

  23. James says:

    The iPad has just conme out in the UK, in this is the only thing stopping me buying one, so they’re are losing business – at least with me – and not gaining it by hoping I’ll buy multiple devices. I also see this as a device laying around in the lounge that the whole family can use.

    …unless I also buy a coffee table for each person in my house!!!

  24. Jay says:

    The ability to simply password protect email would go a long way. My 8 year old enjoys apps on my iPhone and now my iPad. For my iPhone I place in airplane mode to prevent her from reading incoming text messages, I trust Apple will offer some middle ground solution with an update. Early adopters make things better ….

  25. David says:

    Not to mention that if apple wants this to be a device for the classroom, then there has to be a way to secure student work.

  26. Missy says:

    We got an iPad by accident. My Dad wanted a computer. Well he couldn’t figure it out and ended up trading me his iPad for my old G4 Mac. I have two boys age 6 and 10. My 10 year old got me hooked on We Rule, but in order for both of us to play on our own accounts we have to delete and reinstall the whole game each time. This is very annoying. I want to be able to have separate accounts. I also have to constantly turn the restrictions off and on and it makes me reset them. I think being able to have separate accounts would solve all of these problems. You are so right. This is a family gadget. I do like the book reader, but I don’t want my son to have access to my books. They definitely need to think about these issues and address them.

    Sent from my iPad

  27. Randal Oulton says:

    Agreed. Or, the iPad at least needs to allow password protected email accounts.

    It’s not that I have secrets in my email from torrid affairs. It’s not that I have anything to hide from my partner.

    It is that I have corporate email on there that, as much as I trust my partner, I’m not authorized to let anyone else see. The decision to let someone else access that email isn’t down to me. It’s policy that I agreed to. It’s boring, there’s nothing exciting, but the decision to let someone else see that boring, unexciting stuff isn’t mine. And it isn’t Apple’s, either.

    Email accounts need to be password protected, for the iPad to fly in the corporate world.

    Or, someone else needs to sell another Mail app that allows that.

  28. Gayle Fedele says:

    If I do not have my iPad with me, could I access my iPad from my iphone or another computer.

  29. I was all set to hop along to my local Apple store today, burdened with nothing but fistfuls of hard-saved cash to slap down on the counter in exchange for a shiny new iPad. I’d been looking forward to it for WEEKS… this was to be the answer to my family’s problem of tripping over laptop cables, sitting on DVD drives that had been left poking out, and general space wastage in a house where there’s really no space to waste. Plus it would give me that new-gadget fix I’d had missing from my life for so, so long.

    Then it struck me… this thing’s based on a phone’s OS, what if you can’t have multiple users? That would be a complete unmitigated disaster and throw a massive spanner into the otherwise genius works of my space-saving plan.

    So this morning, with Google and our much sat-upon laptop as my only companions, I seek out answers and come across this site. ALAS! For it seems my worst fears are true!

    I will stop crying eventually, I’m sure, and with time and counselling even re-learn to leave the house. But for now, Mr Jobs, I am most certainly unable to let go my fistfuls of cash for your pocket… you have lost this customer.

  30. Dave Hendren says:

    Well, I had planned to purchase the iPad, until I realized there is only one user account per pad. My money will remain in my pocket for now. Sorry Apple, you loose.

  31. Angus says:

    Just came across this post and my fear is confirmed. I was hard pressed to justify the cost, but the idea that I would need to by one for each user is a deal breaker. We each have our own accounts, bookmarks, music etc.

  32. Maggie says:

    we were just given a ‘family’ ipad by my very generous brother in law. he envisioned my daughter and i arm wrestling for it, and my husband and son eventually tap tap tapping on it here and there. so after two weeks i finally go to set up my email only to realize i am IN my daughter’s email… that i am REQUIRED to store a password for mine (both work emails, both security nightmares)…. please tell me there is a way to simply type your EMAIL password at least so we can peacefully co-exist!

  33. Karlissimo says:

    Ugh. How much better iPad life would be if there were password protected email accounts! One wouldn’t need to verify a password constantly, just when the option was turned on (say for dinner parties or nephew joey’s surprise visit). There one would be, feeling safe and secure knowing a wrong “tap” of a button wouldn’t unsheath private contacts and info for any ole’ iPad game lover to see.

    It’s crazy to think it can’t be done!

  34. Matt says:

    Thankfully I won my ipad through a drawing at work, which confirmed my thoughts that i would never waste $500 on an ipad. Apple obviously believes they know best therefore there are very few ways to customize it. If i were going to buy something this size, i would spend half as much on a netbook and i’d even be able to watch the video’s that show up in my email since they wont support flash on the ipad.

  35. Fmstrat says:

    Here is a application for jailbroken iPads that is about to come out that supports multiple users/accounts on iPad, with all features (mail/web/applications/settings/etc):

  36. Danielle says:

    My son loves my I pad, and loves to snoop around and read my mail, what a shame that the I pad allows this…More of a shame is that I can read his too….Need to change this.

  37. vladimir says:

    absolutely agree that ipad needs separate user accounts. Even with some restrictions compared to OSX – for example, all applications of a logged out user should terminate. The trouble is how to do it so thousands of applications won’t be affected by it. The good news is that all apple devices run unix, which may make it easier to implement this functionality.

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