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Apple e-mail hints at multi-user account feature for iPad

Apple's iPad has always been a one-user device, but that might not last forever. A reply to an Apple developer hints that the company's cooking up a solution for multiple users using the same tablet.

Holding an iPad.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's iPad could one day get support for multiple user accounts if an e-mail purportedly sent to a developer from Apple's Worldwide Developer Relations group is to be believed.

Apple Insider on Monday posted a reply an unnamed developer received from Apple after requesting that the company add support for multiple user accounts on the iPad.

"After further investigation it has been determined that this is a known issue, which is currently being investigated by engineering," the reply read.

That reply doesn't go so far as to say such a feature is coming, but comes at a curious time. Apple is a few weeks away from taking the wraps off "the future of iOS" at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The show is expected to bring the introduction of iOS 6, the release of which will likely coincide with Apple's next iPhone later this year.

Unlike Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad has been pitched as a device that is more communal, yet like those other devices it remains tied to a single user account. But that wasn't Apple's original plan, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal that ran just a few days ahead of the first iPad's unveiling.

Citing sources, the Journal said that Apple put "significant resources" into making the iPad "intuitive to share," going so far as to use a built-in camera to identify the person using it. What happened instead was the first-generation model shipping without a camera, and for the next two generations to continue on the single-user model. Some app makers responded by adding support for multiple users, but it's not the standard.

Also worth mentioning is one major hurdle for turning the iPad into a device that works for multiple users: storage. The iPad has only ever sold in three storage configurations (16GB, 32GB and 64GB), and by adding a Retina Display on the third-generation model, some (but not all) applications have ballooned in size. Apple's also done things like increased the quality, and thus the size, of video content in iTunes. Add in multiple users with their own apps and content, and problems could arise -- all things that could require workarounds before such a feature arrives.

Update at 2:20 p.m. PT: Instapaper developer Marco Arment rains on the rumor parade, noting that the "known issue" mention is Apple's standard go-to response: "It's a form letter. It means nothing, except that he was not the first person to make that suggestion." (via The Loop)