Do You Have to Buy an iPhone App for Each Compatible Device?

iOS app licensing
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If you've used enough computing platforms—computers, game consoles, smartphones or tablets—you've encountered the concept of software licensing. This is the legal and technological tool that entitles you to use the software you buy on a given device.

Sometimes that can mean that you're required to buy the same software more than once if you want to use it on more than one device. That's not necessarily the biggest deal for most people: many people only need to use their software on one device, so they never need to worry about paying twice for the same program to use it in two places.


But things are different with iOS devices. It's common to own both an iPhone and an iPad, for instance. In that case, if you want to use the same paid app on both devices, do you have to pay twice?

You Only Buy iOS Apps Once

You'll be glad to know that once you buy an iOS app from the App Store, you can use it on as many devices as you want without having to pay a second time (and, of course, this doesn't apply to free apps, since they're free). 

Limitations to iOS App Licensing

That said, there are two restrictions to the buy-once-use-anywhere nature of iOS apps:

  • All devices using your apps must be logged into the same Apple ID. When you buy an app, it's tied to the Apple ID used to buy it and looks for that on other devices in order to authorize their use
  • App developers can choose to make users pay for later versions. For example, it's becoming increasingly common that major upgrades to paid apps aren't free. I use a podcast app called Castro. For years, Castro's developers had provided free upgrades to the app that worked on all my devices. However, they just released Castro 2, which was a separate purchase. That said, once I had bought the Castro 2 upgrade I was again able to use it on all my devices.

    Using Apps Across Devices: Automatic Downloads

    One simple way to get your paid apps onto all of your compatible devices is to use the iOS's automatic downloads settings. These allow your devices to grab music, apps, and more from the iTunes or App Stores whenever you make a purchase.

    Learn more in Enabling Automatic Downloads for iCloud on iOS and iTunes

    Using Apps Across Devices: Redownloading from iCloud 

    Another way to make sure all your devices have the same apps is to download them from your iCloud account. All you need to do is have purchased an app once. Then, on a device that doesn't have that app installed (and is logged into the same Apple ID!), go to the App Store app and download it.

    Learn more in Using iCloud to Redownload from iTunes

    Using Apps Across Devices: Family Sharing

    Apple's Family Sharing feature takes the ability to share apps across devices one step further. Instead of just sharing apps on your own devices, you can share apps on all devices used by your family members—assuming they're linked by Family Sharing, that is. This is a great way to share all paid content: not just apps, but also music, movies, books, and more.

    Learn more about How to Use Family Sharing

    How Software Licensing Works With Other Products

    Apple's buy-once-use-anywhere approach to iOS app licensing was unusual when the App Store debuted (it wasn't unique or original, but it also wasn't extremely common). In those days, it was common to have to buy a copy of a program for every computer you wanted to use it on.

    That's changing. These days, many software packages come with licenses for multiple devices for a single price.

    For instance, Microsoft Office 365 Home edition includes support for 5 users, each running the software on multiple devices.

    This isn't universally true. High-end programs still often need to be licensed on a one-off basis, but more and more, no matter what platform you use, you'll find apps that only need to be bought once.

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