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Tuesday
Feb072012

iOS User Accounts

Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could pick up any iPhone or iPad and have it personalized with your settings quickly? This is something that occurred to me last week when my girl friend had left her iPhone at home and wanted to continue reading her book in iBooks. I had my iPad with me but of course it is tied to my iTunes account, not hers, and it’s way too much hassle to reconfigure it just for a brief reading session.

But it made me wonder what that feature could look like on iOS and what it would take to make it happen. Basically, you’d want an extension of something that’s already possible on OSX: signing in with an Apple-ID. Once you’re authenticated with your Apple-ID, your content and settings are only a few steps away: iCloud, if you’re using it, has got it and in theory, that’s all you need to restore your device.

I’ve upgraded quite a few devices in the past and so far backup and restore has worked really well. Now imagine there were an (optional) login screen on iOS devices where you could log in to your iCloud account and immediately you’d get your home screen, with your content and settings trickling in in the background - just like it’s happening now when you restore through iTunes or from iCloud. With future devices having more storage space, the OS could cache multiple user accounts so that on subsequent logins your data would only need an update rather than a completely fresh pull. Also, you can imagine some things like big apps being referenced from multiple accounts and therefore needing to be stored only once on a device and not per account.

If that use-case still sounds esoteric to you, because your iPad is yours alone, think about places where iPads could be shared by larger audiences: Schools, universities, sales people, etc. For example, if a school wanted to start using iPads in one course only, say their biology class, they’d only need to get enough iPads for their maximum class size, not for the total number of students attending that class. (Caveat: no iPad based learning at home unless students log in using their private iPad.) Or there could be iPads per course that wouldn’t need to be moved: Your course material appears at your desk wherever you are - you don’t actually carry it there anymore. It would certainly help reduce the risk of iPads being dropped between classes or on the bus.

Technically, I would assume something like that being investigated or even in place already at Apple. It’s probably just a matter of broadband connections catching up to make this a smooth experience. One that Apple would be willing to ship and tout as a new feature.