Does the iPad Need User Accounts?

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mySlate for iPad

I’ve seen a number of people talking recently about how they feel that the iPad really needs user accounts.  Most recently, our friend Joshua Schnell did a good post on this subject at his Macgasm site.  Here are a couple quick excerpts from Joshua’s post:

It didn’t take me long to realize that the iPad is a multi-user device, and that Apple needs to take this into account and provide people with the ability to use multiple accounts.

I have a hard time seeing a family pick up more than one iPad as it stands, but I can certainly see the iPad kicking around kitchen tables, and coffee tables in most homes. This is where the problem begins, and Apple certainly needs to take this into account–more than one user is problematic for most people.

The article goes on to talk about issues with access to a parent’s email account on the iPad, or to their Twitter or Facebook accounts, or potentially even financial information via finance-oriented apps.

I’m Not Worried

Although I can see how there could be issues of this type for many families, my initial gut reaction is that I don’t want to see anything that detracts from the dead-simple, friendly interface of the iPad.  The whole idea of having separate user accounts and logging in and out is instantly unappealing to me.

I also don’t feel a great need for privacy or extra security on the iPad so far.  I have a very young daughter (7) who enjoys reading eBooks together and playing a few games with me on the iPad, but she doesn’t ever spend much time using the device on her own.  My wife will join in with some of the game with us, but again doesn’t spend time using the device on her own. 

The above is partly due to the fact that they each have their own devices and distractions to keep them busy and entertained, and also because I’m quite a controlling iPad owner.  The iPad was a big expense for me (the 64GB WiFi model) and it is an essential tool for me – so I am probably more than a little over-protective with it. 

I guess you could say my primary ‘security’ concerns with the iPad are related to preventing it from being dropped, having liquid spilled on it, and similar.  I’m honestly not worried about anyone in the house seeing my email or Twitter accounts, or latest browsing history.  My daughter tends to shoulder-surf at everything I’m doing on the web and in Twitter and similar on my Mac anyway – so no secrets from her, and I don’t keep any financial info in any iPhone or iPad apps (and don’t visit banking sites on them either).

But I May Well Be in then Minority on This …

The more I think about this though, the more I think I may be the exception rather than the rule on some of this.  I can easily see that others might well have sensitive financial information held in apps or accessible via a website, or email accounts and other areas that need a higher degree of privacy.

I wouldn’t object to seeing user accounts (or some similar approach) being an available option within Settings – though I’d rather not see it imposed across the board (and can’t imagine Apple going that way with it either).

A Partial Solution?

In the meantime, I am aware of one iPad app that goes a ways towards addressing at least some of these issues.  The mySlate app – from my friend and colleague here, Brandon Steili – looks like a nice option if you are one of those who are pining for user accounts on the iPad.

Here’s a little Intro to the app and some of its features, straight from Brandon:

mySlate is the first app designed to take your iPad from a single user device to one you can share with the whole family, and still keep your web browsing, photos and videos private!
mySlate is designed with privacy in mind. Everything is kept separate from one user to the next – bookmarks, web cookies, images and videos.
** Unlimited user accounts
** FTP Server for photo and video uploads – separate access per user so nobody sees your files and you don’t see theirs
** Photos – Slideshow and random slideshow
** Videos – Plays pretty much everything your iPad can play
** Web – Tabbed Browsing, Image Saving, Bookmark Folders, email links, open in Safari
** Switch users without leaving the app, change your password whenever you want to.

You can find mySlate in the App Store now, priced at $2.99.

What Do You Think?

Does the iPad need user accounts?  Are you concerned about leaving your iPad on the coffee table at home?

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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3 thoughts on “Does the iPad Need User Accounts?”

  1. I believe the iPad is very much a personal, individual device. My wife and I have both had our own iPads since April 3. I can assure you that keeps peace in the family.

  2. IMHO – Ab-so-frickin-lutely.

    So aside from the obvious reasons for using an app like mySlate, or using some other app to secure your private stuff – and by private I mean everything from adult materials to tax statements – there's a lot of other reasons for multiple accounts on the iPad and most of those reasons could be fixed by the app developer supporting multiple users but Apple needs to support it too.

    For example WeRule for the iPad. Doesn't support multiple users, unless you consider deleting the app, re-downloading it and then launching it as a new user as supporting.

    GoodReader – Another great example. Yes, they support locking folders down, but not multiple users. So good effort at least on their part to keep some stuff private, but that gets killed by Doc Sharing (more on this in a second).

    Email. Big issue of mine on the iPad. I have people at work ask to "check it out" all the time. Here's the problem… what if you're in the middle of looking for a new job? (not that I am… just sayin). What if you're explaining to your wife what a horrible day its been and how much you don't like so-and-so, and that person's best work buddy just asked to check out your iPad? That's personal stuff – and there's no way to hide it.

    Do you use bookmarks in Safari? Got some you don't think the kids should see?

    Got a camera connection kit? Lets say you and the family are at DisneyLand. Sounds fun right? So lets also say the kids are away (at some event with grandma and grandpa who came along for the ride) and you and the wife are in the hotel room with not a lot to do. Things get out of hand, pictures get taken. Pictures get kept. Guess what? That iPad is now completely off limits to the kids for the duration of the trip. I know the example is a bit of an extreme, but if you think this doesn't happen out there in the world, well it does. Google it.

    You and the wife both have Twitter accounts? How about Facebook accounts? Again… single user device. Works out fine on the iPhone because it's typically a single user using it. But not so good on the iPad. None of these apps require a password to get back to where you were. Hope you and an old flame don't get to laughing about old times in a private message on FB. (Not that FB can manage to keep that stuff private anyway…)

    Finally – even the iPhone/iPad SDK makes configuring multiple accounts a PITA. You know that shared documents thing where you can copy files through iTunes to your device? Yea… it gives access to the entire documents folder with no way to specify which files or folders iTunes should display. All the developer gets is an option to turn on file sharing or not. No other options. (So, if you're wondering why mySlate doesn't do this yet, now you know).

    I could go on and on all day long about this. I know most situations where someone wants privacy are extremes (porn, new job, ex lover) but not all of them are. And some people (like me) just like their privacy. I'm not out looking to hide anything from my wife or friends, but I want the simple things to work… like handing my iPad to my wife so she can play WeRule on the big screen, check her own email, and have her own bookmarks in Safari.

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