The price is wrong: Family Sharing confuses the App Store

Apple Family Sharing members don't need to go to the Purchased page in the App Store to install previously purchased apps for free; it just appears that way.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read

One of my roles as a dad is iOS Game Scout. In an effort to get my daughter to take a break from one of the many Toca Hair salon games she plays and my son to step away momentarily from Minecraft, I bring games to their attention that have, in my estimation, some sort of artistic or educational value. Monument Valley was a big hit last year with both, and Alto's Adventure is the latest game I've suggested that has resonated with both of them.

My daughter has her own iPad and Apple ID, and I've set us up with Family Sharing so we can share apps and movie purchases. This week, I noticed something odd when I went to install Alto's Adventure on my daughter's iPad. I found it on the Top Charts list, and it appeared as though the App Store insisted she pay for it even though I had already paid for it on my iPhone. Instead of the iCloud download button that you usually see for apps that you have already purchased but are not currently installed on your device, Alto's Adventure -- and other apps that I had purchased -- simply listed the price.

I wanted to avoid paying double for the app, so I first checked Family Sharing in Settings > iCloud but all family members were present and accounted for and logged in. I then checked that I had the toggle switch on for Share My Purchases for my profile in iCloud > Family. Nothing looked amiss.

Next, I restarted the App Store app, but that didn't do the trick either. Then I logged us both out of iCloud and then back in. No dice.

It turns out that we did nothing wrong with our Family Sharing situation. The confusion lies with the App Store itself. Apple wants you to drill down in the Purchased tab of the App Store to make family app purchases. The default view on the Purchased page are the apps you installed yourself, but you can tap My Purchases in the upper-left corner to bring up a small Family Purchases panel. It lists all of the family members in your Family Sharing plan. On my daughter's iPad, I tapped on my name and on this page Alto's Adventure and the other apps I had purchased each showed a Free button to install them.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

I found it strange that on the main pages of the App Store app -- Featured, Top Charts and even via Search -- Alto's Adventure listed a price of $2.99, while on the Purchased page it listed the app as Free. I wondered if Apple really was going to charge me twice for the same app, so I searched for a handful of apps on my daughter's iPad that I had already purchased and tapped the price button for each, and guess what I found. The apps installed for free. I checked my iTunes purchase history and confirmed that I was not double billed for any of them.

My wife is a part of our Family Sharing plan, too, and I double-checked this situation with her iPad. Same thing -- no double billing. But what I also found out is that for apps I had already purchased, she could tap their price button and the app would install right away without asking for her Apple ID password. And on my daughter's iPad, previously purchased apps would install without sending me an approval request.

This means that they never need to drill down to my Purchased page in the App Store app. If a paid app begins installing without asking for a password or permission, then it means I already paid for it. And if a paid app asks for a password or permission, then it's an app I have not previously paid for and installed.

Apple could certainly clear up this confusion by listing the little iCloud download button or the Free button for apps that a Family Share member has already purchased.

In the end, my advice to Family Sharing members is to ignore the price button listed for app you know someone in your family already purchased; you won't be billed twice. And if you are the cautious type, you can always jump to the Purchased page in the App Store for the person in your family that bought the app, where it will clearly show you can download the app for free.

For more, learn how to get started with Family Sharing.