One of the marquee features of iOS 4.3 is an extension of iTunes’ Home Sharing feature. Introduced in iTunes 9, Home Sharing was initially designed to allow you to share music and copy files between iTunes on different computers over a local network. But with the release of iOS 4.3 and iTunes 10.2, you can now use Home Sharing on iOS devices as well. Here’s how it works.

iTunes Setup

To start with, you need to activate Home Sharing in iTunes on each of the Macs (and Windows PCs) whose libraries you want to share. To do this, go to the Advanced menu in iTunes and choose Turn On Home Sharing. You’ll be prompted to enter your Apple ID and password. This is where the Home Sharing feature has its limits; only those computers sharing the same iTunes account can use Home Sharing together. If your family members each have different iTunes accounts, you’ll have to choose one for Home Sharing.

Each copy of iTunes needs to be authorised (for the same iTunes account) for Home Sharing to work. If iTunes isn’t already authorised, this takes place when you turn Home Sharing on. This means that Home Sharing goes hand in hand with the five-computer limit per iTunes account. Also, if you turn Home Sharing off permanently on one of your computers – and you don’t use that computer to listen to any DRM material – don’t forget to deauthorise it from iTunes’ Store menu. (Note that you cannot share Audible files via Home Sharing.)

You can view a shared library in the iPad’s iPod app with iOS 4.3 and Home Sharing

Once you’ve activated Home Sharing on your different copies of iTunes, each copy of iTunes displays the other computers’ iTunes libraries, and any user can listen to or view content in another user’s library. In addition, you can copy items from other libraries; simply select an item, then click the Import button to add it to your library. (Note that you can also import playlists from other computers by using this method.) The Settings window lets you tell iTunes to automatically copy any of five types of purchased content from another library. Unfortunately, you can’t use that automatic function to copy content that didn’t come from the iTunes Store (ripped CDs, for example), which means that the feature won’t help you to keep multiple iTunes libraries in sync.

A new feature in iTunes 10.2 makes Home Sharing a bit easier to work with. If you open the Energy Saver system preference, and check the Wake For Network Access or Wake For AirPort Network Access option (the wording depends on the kind of Mac you have), shared iTunes libraries will be visible in the iTunes sidebar even if the Macs hosting them are asleep. If you click on such a library, the Mac will wake up and you can access its content.

iOS 4.3 setup

With iOS 4.3, you can go even further. Home Sharing is now available on any iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad that can run the latest update to Apple’s mobile operating system. (You can access your iTunes library via your phone, but it doesn’t work the other way around.) To set it up, go to Settings > iPod on your iOS device. You’ll see a new Home Sharing section – enter the Apple ID and password of the account you used for Home Sharing on your computer(s) and then navigate back to the main interface.

Music  The next step depends on the type of content you want to stream to your iOS device (Apple could use a little more consistency in this area). To stream music on an iPhone, launch the iPod app to access music. On an iPod touch, launch the Music app, and on an iPad, launch the iPod app.

On the iPhone or iPod touch, tap on More, and then Shared. You’ll see a list of shared libraries that are available. Tap on one to select it. You may need to wait a while for the library to load if it’s large – it took several minutes to load our library of more than 60,000 items, which makes this feature somewhat impractical if you want to listen to anything without pausing for a cup of tea first. To stream music on the iPad, go to the main screen of the iPod app, tap on Library in the sidebar, and then choose a library from the pop-up menu.

In either case, you’ll see your different libraries (Music, Podcasts, Audiobooks, and so on), as well as available playlists. After you’ve selected a library or playlist, you can tap Songs, Artists, Albums, Genres, or Composers to sort by those criteria, to help you narrow down your selection. Tap one of these categories to view its contents, and then tap the item you want to listen to.

Leave all your content on your computer and access it from any device on your network

Video  As with streaming music, the method you use to stream video from an iTunes library depends on the type of iOS device you’re using. On an iPhone, the iPod app handles your audio and video content, so the process is the same as it is for music. But on an iPad or iPod touch, you’ll need to launch the Videos app.

On the iPad, you’ll see the available libraries; on the iPhone or iPod touch, you’ll need to tap Shared to see a list of libraries. Tap one library to view its contents, and then tap an icon to view either a movie or the available episodes of a TV show. You can watch any videos on an iOS device just as if they were on the device, so long as your network can handle it.

All within reach

The new Home Sharing feature is very nice to have on iOS devices. You can now leave all your content on your computer and access it from any device on your network. This doesn’t mean that you can take it all with you when you leave your home, but at least you can listen to or view anything in your library when you’re within reach of your wireless network.

Right now, the time it takes to load a large library limits the usefulness of this feature for people with large media collections, but hopefully Apple will tweak the process to speed things up.