With Windows 10 now available across a variety of device types—including PCs, tablets and 2-in-1s, phones, HoloLens, and more—Microsoft has once again tweaked how device limits work. So its time to take another look at this little-understood aspect of Microsoft account ownership.
I wrote about Windows 10 device limits a year ago when Windows 10 first shipped, noting that Windows 10 was essentially moving to a system similar to that found on mobile devices. That is, apps and games you buy and download from Windows Store are tied, in this case, to your Microsoft account, and each comes with usage rights that include, among other things, the devices on which those apps and games can run.
But because the apps and store in Microsoft’s ecosystem run on vastly different device types—PCs, phones, and HoloLens aren’t just different physically, they run different versions of Windows 10 too, for example—these device limits are in some ways more important. And Microsoft has created different device limits for different things: In addition to apps and games, there are different limits and other rules for music and movies/TV shows. And Microsoft also provides a way to manage all of your Windows 10 devices, regardless of whether you use them with apps, games, music or TV shows.
Confused? This should help.
You can manage the devices associated with your Microsoft account from the—wait for it—Microsoft account web site. If you select Devices from the toolbar, you’ll see there are four options: Your devices, Apps & games devices, Music devices, and Movies & TV devices.
So let’s see how each one works.
This first entry lists all of the devices—you’ve associated with your Microsoft account: PCs, tablets, Windows phones, HoloLens, Xbox Ones, and so on. There is no limit on the number of devices, and no limit on removing devices.
That latter bit is interesting to me because I had over 45 devices associated with my own account when I first looked at this last week. (That’s because I review so many hardware devices.) The good news is I could remove all of the devices that I no longer use. The bad news is that it was tedious: You have to do one at a time, confirming as you go.
So why does this list exist? There are a variety of reasons, but for Microsoft devices—Surface Book, Xbox One, and so on—you can get warranty information, start a repair request, and get other support. And for portable PCs and phones, you can use the “Find my PC” functionality to locate a missing or stolen device.
Apps & games devices
The apps & games devices is the first time we see limits associated with a devices list, though in my experience this is what I call a soft limit. That is, Microsoft says you can install apps or games on up to 10 devices, where “devices” means “Windows 10 devices like PCs, tablets and phones.” (And not Xbox Ones, at least not yet.) But I had dozens of devices in this list and have never once ran into a limit (where a warning pops up and says I can’t install apps or games on a new device, or whatever).
That said, you should keep this list as clean as the Your devices list, if only because it’s likely that at some point the limits will become more strict. The good news? Like that Your devices list, there’s no limit on removing devices, so you can simply remove any devices you no longer own or use. I trimmed mine down to a handful of PCs and one phone.
This list applies only to those with a Groove Music Pass—or those who have bought and wish to download music from Windows Store—and it is the most restrictive of Microsoft’s devices lists: You can only associate four devices (PCs, tablets, or phones, including iPhone and Android) with your subscription, for starters. And more onerously, you can only remove one device every 30 days.
That latter limit is something I’ve run into repeatedly, though to be fair it’s likely related to the fact that I do review a lot of devices, and in really using those devices I of course really use the services I really use. You see the issue: Usually a phone call to Microsoft support helps clear things up.
Or, you can do what I’ve started doing recently: Put a reminder in your calendar to remove devices once every 30 days. Just in case.
Movies & TV devices
The Movies & TV devices list works just like that for Music devices, but it’s just slightly less restrictive. As you might expect from the name, this list is for those devices to which you’ve downloaded content you purchased or rented from Microsoft’s Movies & TV service. This includes PCs and Windows phones, of course, and also Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles. You can associate five devices with this list (as opposed to four for music), and like the music devices list, you can remove only one each 30 days. So keep an eye on it.
But there’s another twist. You can remove devices from the other lists—Your devices, Apps and games devices, and Music devices—from this web-based interface. You cannot, however, remove movies & TV shows devices here. Instead, you can only do so from the Movies & TV shows app on Windows 10 (including Windows 10 Mobile). For some reason.
Worse, you can only do so on that device. That is, you can only remove a device from that device. Ugh.
In my case, I only have one device associated with movies & TV shows, my Surface Book. And that makes sense since I travel with it a lot and have downloaded purchased and rented movies to the device. Looking at the Movies & TV app on my Surface Book, I see a link in Settings under Download Settings called “Remove this device.” This works as expected.
The question is what happens if I forget to do this? I assume calling Microsoft support is the only option, but if purchasing video content from Microsoft ever becomes popular, they’re going to need to add this to the Microsoft account web interface, and let customers manage these devices normally. So far, however, this hasn’t been an issue for me whatever reason.