Multiple User Account Disorder

Somehow I ended up creating multiple user accounts (under separate email addresses) over at TripIt (which is probably my favorite travel tool of the past decade). For a recent trip, I had stashed some data in one account and other bits in another. But thankfully TripIt made it relatively easy to consolidate these accounts together; after some simple email verification, I had a single user account that recognized both email addresses.

It made me wish that Apple would allow me to do the same thing, but alas they don’t. For a few years now, I’ve had two separate Appe IDs where I would very much like to have just one. Though I’ve tried to be conscientious about using only the one that I prefer, once in a while I’ll accidentally make purchases on the App Store or in iTunes with the wrong one. So now I have some digital purchases under one account and others under the other, which can make for a frustrating experience when I have to update or re-authorize any of them.

This seems especially egregious for Apple, as their suite of products creates so many opportunities — iTunes, MobileMe, iChat, FaceTime, even registering a new Mac, to name a few — where a user might inadvertently create multiple accounts. Allowing users to merge accounts, preferably through a simple, self-service Web tool, strikes me as a fundamental requirement for good customer management. This would seem especially true when your ecosystem is as large as Apple’s, when the company serves as the gateway to so many purchases, and when it stores so many credit card numbers.

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  1. I agree.

    We have run into a similar problem on our site where users are using multiple single sign-on options (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter) and are creating multiple accounts on accident.

    We’re in the process of doing along the lines of TripIt, but trying to do something more streamlined than email verification to link accounts.

  2. @Noah – That support document is misleading, as I have called Apple several times in the past year to resolve this very issue, and each time I’m told it can’t be done. The best solution they offer is to authorize both Apple ID accounts on all of your devices, that way you can make purchases on your preferred account, but still access your purchases made on your old account. It works, but it’s annoying that I have to type in two different passwords when I update my apps.

  3. As you point out, given the extensive and – more importantly, different – ecosystems Apple has cultivated over the years this problem is all to easy to encounter. Worse, it’s one that only intensifies as the number of Apple devices proliferates within a family or household.

    It’s staggering that a company like Apple, that is renowned for paying such ruthless attention to detail in the design of user experiences, hasn’t considered this to be a fundamental design issue as a central part of the customer experience.

    With the relentless move towards digital products one can only see this problem proliferating. One hopes others adopt Tripit’s model over Apple’s.

  4. Yes, same problem. Stupidly, one is my name @mac.com and the other account is simply my name. Apple won’t combine them. Tried calling — no go.

    I can only think that there’s some kind of fraud they’re afraid of which uses multiple accounts, and they won’t publicly admit it for fear of publicizing the fraud. That’s just a guess.

  5. You’re probably right that this is just an oversight, but: is it possible that Apple has a business reason for not letting users consolidate accounts? Maybe it gives them more leverage when negotiating content deals, because them claim more credit cards on file (and possibly more active accounts)?

  6. Ethan: interesting thought. I’d like to think Apple is above those kinds of shenanigans though who knows. They *do* trump their millions of credit cards on file fairly often.

    Still allowing customers to easily consolidate their accounts doesn’t necessarily mean they’d be giving up credit card numbers. Amazon for instance has at least three of mine on file under one account, so you could imagine Apple could do something similar.

  7. 2 .me things that desperately need changing:

    1) consolidate accounts. I’ve lived in 3 countries and have an iTunes account for each. In one country, I even have 2 (there is that situation where, as a woman, you marry, and change your name, and there you go, you want a new ID reflecting that name) Makes for an interesting but weird game to try to remember if you bought a song before or after marriage or what country you bought it it, in order to activate playback with the id, when all you want to do is hear the damn thing you bought.

    2) that leads to problem 2: the apple ID “is” in email, well, at least it looks like one (including that you have to type the whole string “userid@me.com” into the username field. They won’t allow just the part before the @. And then, the weird thing happens: you can change your actual email address, so you end up with a “real” and a “fake” .m email that is actually just a username. Scary.

    For some reason all the common sense from their physical products doesn’t find it’s way into the Apple online concept department. I hope that when the pressure of users like us rises, they might consider raising the bar in that department to the level of quality where everyhing else is on.

  8. re. Ethan’s comment and Khoi’s follow-up. This would make the most sense as it is an impression or subscription-based business model, like the circulation numbers magazines and newspapers use. These are always pumped up as much as possible to sell ads for as much as possible. Magazines would give subscriptions away, use pass-along numbers, etc. By not consolidating they can push their “unique users” numbers as well as their cc# holdings. Depending on who they are selling their wares to each of those holds a different amount of significance I would think.

    It will be interesting to see how they continue to leverage this as ad-based subscription-model digital products become the norm. (Compare with free/freemium.)

  9. @Eli

    Yep. That’s what I was trying to get at when I said it might let Apple report more active accounts (i.e. if people forget to stick exclusively to their primary account). Thanks for saying it more clearly.

  10. Had a friend with in a similar situation with two accounts, an old one with just an ID, and then Apple forced everyone to use an Apple ID which required an email address, so he had the same ID @aol.com. He couldn’t use the old ID-only one, so had a bunch of content sitting on it unable to be moved over to his @aol.com account. He called and emailed Apple multiple times and every time they said they couldn’t do it. Then all of a sudden he got an email saying content from his old account got moved over to his other (@aol.com) account. I dunno, maybe there’s hope if you’re in that same situation or you bug them enough.

  11. On a related note Apple offer little or no information for users on the various options for managing an Apple ecosystem in a household (and that’s putting aside that what is offered is hardly “Apple-like”).

    To take but one example I’m guessing the number of households worldwide with more than one iPhone/iPod but just the one iMac or MacBook would run into the millions.

    But I have found barely any information – let alone advice – about whether to set up single or multiple Apple accounts, computer user-accounts, etc for people living under the one roof (aka ‘families’).

    Most of my friends now own iPhones, and nearly all of those who are married or in long-term relationships with other iPhone owners have individual Apple IDs, and thus end up purchasing many of the same songs and apps as their respective partners.

    I wonder whether it’s not just the number of credit cards on file that discourages Apple from making user accounts a more “Apple-like” experience – there’s real income from end-users pouring in every single day.