Katherine Boehret

At 10, You Still Have Some Tricks, iTunes

Apple just celebrated the 10th birthday of its famed iTunes, which is easily the most popular source for buying digital content. Still, I regularly field questions from my family and friends about how iTunes works. These range from basic questions about syncing to storing music in the cloud and sharing music with family. And iTunes also has a lot of features most people don’t know exist. This week, I rounded up some ways to improve the way you use iTunes.

Digital Allowance

If you aren’t thrilled at the prospect of setting your credit-card number as the default payment on your kid’s iTunes account, a monthly allowance might be a better solution. From the iTunes Store home page on your computer, select “Send iTunes Gifts” on the right, then “Learn More About Gifting” and scroll to the bottom to find allowance settings. You can set the allowance in amounts ranging from $10 to $50.


Recipients must have an Apple ID, but you can set up an Apple ID for them at the same time. You can decide to send the allowance right away or wait until the next month, on either the first or the day of the month you set up the allowance. You also can add a personal message.

Redeeming Gift Cards

Some people are thrilled to receive iTunes gift cards, but they just don’t know how to redeem them. A simple shortcut on a computer or mobile devices is to open iTunes, navigate to the iTunes Store, scroll to the very bottom of the store’s home screen and click Redeem. (On a computer, this is under Manage. In the iOS app, it’s in the bottom, center of the screen.) You’ll be asked to enter your Apple ID and then to enter your gift card or download code. If you accidentally scratched letters or numbers from your code like I did once, call or email Apple Support and they’ll help you figure it out.

Gifts Without the Gift Card

Anything in the iTunes Store or Apple’s App Store can be given to another person via an email. On your computer, select the arrow beside the price and click on “Gift this.” If you’re using an Apple mobile device, select the share icon (a small square with an arrow pointing right) at the top of the screen from the store and choose “Gift.” Then enter a personal message and choose Now or Other Date to decide when the recipient gets it.

This is especially helpful for favorite games or TV shows that you want friends to start playing or watching.

Sharing Libraries

Many family members or friends may find themselves frustrated by how their digital content is stored in individual libraries associated with individual Apple IDs, making it harder to share this content. While you can’t merge Apple IDs to combine libraries, you can turn on Home Sharing within your home Wi-Fi network to let various devices share content while they’re within range of the network. Turn on Home Sharing from the Advanced menu in iTunes and enter the same Apple ID on up to five computers. Likewise, you can stream content from other shared computers, or drag it onto your computer’s local library.

You also can see this shared content from iOS devices and Apple TV. Within the Music app on iOS, click the More tab in the bottom right. In the Videos app, tap the Shared button at the top. On your Apple TV, go into Settings, Computer and turn on Home Sharing, then open the Computer icon in your Apple TV’s main menu to access libraries and stream content.

iCloud vs. iTunes Match

Owners of Apple products surely have heard of iCloud, but they may not use it. Some people aren’t sure how it works with music and how it differs from iTunes Match.

ICloud is a handy insurance policy against losing your iPod and all of your iTunes content along with it. Once you set up iCloud using your Apple ID, any content that you buy from the iTunes Store will show up on other devices without any syncing. Any past purchases from the iTunes Store will show up on all of your devices, too. Tapping a tiny cloud icon beside each file will pull it onto your device.

To replicate all of your content across devices, including stuff you haven’t bought from iTunes (like CDs you imported or bought elsewhere), iTunes Match will do the trick. This costs $25 a year and matches up to 25,000 songs. From iTunes on your computer, open the Store menu, select “Turn on iTunes Match,” enter your Apple ID and password and click Subscribe. On iOS devices, open Settings, Music and turn on iTunes Match.

ITunes Match will work on up to 10 devices, and it auto-scans for newly purchased content so you have it on all devices.

Getting Rid of Content

It may seem like everything in your iTunes library is stuck there for good. But if you’re tired of keeping unwanted files, like episodes of Season 2’s “Mad Men” or irritating tunes from a Christmas party playlist, the process to delete them is painless.

From your iTunes library on the computer, click the item to select it, press the delete key and click Delete Item. From here, you can opt to remove the item only from your iTunes library, which keeps the file on your computer though not in iTunes (click “Keep File”), or delete the item from your computer permanently (click “Move to Trash” and empty the Trash).

When you know how all of its features work, iTunes can be a real pleasure to use. But if you’re confused, syncing content can be a dreaded experience. If you know people who tiptoe around how to use iTunes, share this guide with them.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katie.boehret@wsj.com

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