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Moving iPhone Apps between iPhones Bought with Different Accounts

It is possible to copy an iPhone app, purchased with one iTunes account to another iPhone linked to a different iTunes account. Without paying for it again. Here's how to do it.

Recently, my wife bought the HP-15C calculator for her iPod touch with her own iTunes account. I wanted to move that app to my iPhone without paying for it a second time. It can be done, but there's a procedure that must be followed. It's actually quite easy.

Step 1. Go to the Mac (or PC) on which the desired iPhone app resides. Launch iTunes. You'll be in, let's call it, the source account.

Step 2. From the iTunes source list on the left, click on "Applications." Identify the iPhone app you're interested in. Option + Drag it to the desktop.


 iTunes  Applications

You'll see the app with an iTunes icon and the extension ".ipa", an iPhone app.


iPhone app

iPhone app on the Desktop

Step 3. Copy that file to the destination Mac with, say, Apple File Sharing or a Flash drive.

Step 4. Here's the key part. Launch iTunes on the destination Mac. Even if you're already signed in with your own account (no need to logout), from the iTunes Menus at the top, select Store -> Authorize Computer.


Getting ready to authorize second account

A dialog box will come up asking for credentials. Here's where you enter the user name and password from the source account where the iPhone app was originally purchased.

iTunes credentials

Enter credentials from source iTunes account

What you've done is essentially add a second iTunes account to your Mac, and that authorizes it to have and play music or apps purchased under that account.

Now, remember that app that ends in .ipa that you copied? In the Finder, move that app to /Users/youracctname/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications. That's where your own iPhone apps reside. A shortcut for this move is to simply drag that iPhone app to the iTunes app icon, and the Finder will do the right thing.

Step 5. Back in iTunes, with your iPhone connected, select the iPhone source, then the Applications tab at the top. Click on the Sync button at the bottom. That will move the app to your iPhone, and it's ready to use in its new location.

iTunes Sync

With iPhone connected, sync the app

Note that if you don't do it this way, even if you've authorized the Mac with the second iTunes account, if you try to buy the app again, you'll be charged again.

While it's well known that a single iTunes account can only be authorized on five computers, and the authorization you just did counts as one, there is no known limit to the number of iTunes accounts that can be used on a single computer. Because you've used up one of the five allowed authorizations for the source account, this procedure preserves the DRM intended for apps (and music).


8 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

Mike Weasner said:

You forgot Step 6.  Delete the app from the Source computer.  Otherwise, the BSA police will come after you.


Bob LeVitus said:

It turns out this procedure is also the solution to a vexing issue some people have, which is: The Applications item in iTunes Source List displays a number (in my case it was 5) that indicates that there are updates available. But if you click the Check for Updates button, iTunes says there are no updates available. Sometimes it would display a higher number (say, 9) and when I clicked Check for Updates it found 4 items that needed updating. But afterward it would still appear that I had 5 updates available even though iTunes would repeatedly tell me it wasn’t so.

This issue bothered the heck out of me for a couple of weeks so I went off to find a solution. The solution I found was this: All of the “phantom” updates that were responsible for the little number that wouldn’t go away (next to Applications in iTunes’ Source List) were five apps that had been purchased using iTunes accounts other than mine.

Since my family and I are all authorized to use each others’ iTunes purchases, I had 2 apps my son had bought and 3 that my wife had bought. The fix was to log in with each of their accounts and update the apps purchased with their account.

Unfortunately there is no way to tell precisely WHICH app needs to be updated this way. You just have to have faith that there are apps in your collection that were purchased using an iTunes account other than yours.

Another thing… if you happen to get a FREE app from someone, the same thing will happen—you will only be able to update that app by logging in as that person.

Bottom line #1: If you see a little number next to Applications, even when iTunes says you don’t have any updates available, log in as your wife, child, or whomever you got the app from in the first place and _then_ click the Check for Updates button.

Bottom line #2: If an app is free, download your own copy and you’ll not only avoid the phantom number, but you won’t have to log in using another account to update it.


Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus


John Martellaro said:

To the best of my knowledge, this is not illegal or intended to bypass Apple’s DRM.  After five, you run out of Macs to authorize the app onto.



Mike Weasner said:

Do developers realize that the same 5 authorizations from the music side apply to their apps?  Do they agree with this policy?  Does the App Store agreement they signed when their had their app(s) put on the store mention this?

Does the same apply to HD movies and TV shows purchased from the iTMS?  Can you just as easily and legally move them between computers, and hence devices?


Bob LeVitus said:

That’s my understanding…


Eric Broadhurst said:

I’m confused…is this not the procedure for sharing any iTunes Store-purchased files?  I have all my apps on our Time Capsule. My wife then dragged the ones she wanted to her computer, dumped into iTunes, and synced her iPhone. So, she now can use those apps, but can’t update them. I need to update them, put the new versions on Time Capsule, and then she gets the new versions. A pain.

Is Step 4, where you authorize using the buyer’s info, something you do every time? When we started moving apps between our machines, we were both already authorized for the other’s iTunes Store purchases. So, is Step 4 not needed if one is already authorized for the other account’s purchases?

And when you write “What you’ve done is essentially add a second iTunes account to your Mac, and that authorizes it to have and play music or apps purchased under that account.”, you don’t mean that you have iTunes running under a separate user with a separate account, right? Would it be (more) correct to say that you’ve added a second iTunes account to your user (since other users can already have iTunes accounts).

I think one thing that confuses me is when you write, “Note that if you don’t do it this way, even if you’ve authorized the Mac with the second iTunes account, if you try to buy the app again, you’ll be charged again.” What other way is there?

And…Mr. LeVitus’s comment, while a solution to the “updating other people’s apps” problem, isn’t directly related to your main point, correct? That is, going he’s not saying that going through your steps stopped him from having to log in as other’s each time. He’s just pointing out a corollary regarding other accounts?

Feeling daft…




danny said:

Instead of resorting to installing a purchased app onto another iPhone through iTunes. I was successful to have installed a purchased app by simply logging onto my iTunes account on the iPhone (in settings) and then redownloading it onto the other phone. apparently, it said I had already purchased the app thus resulting in it properly installing. has anyone else done this?


John Martellaro said:


What you’ve described is routine practice. Where it gets tricky is when the app was purchased in a different account than your own iTunes account. Dealing with that was the focus of my article.


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