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Apple’s SharePlay vision: Too little, too late?


Apple has made several attempts that nod in the same direction as its new SharePlay service, announced at WWDC 2021. Looking back, you’ll see that Apple has made attempts in what became the social media space, with Ping the most widely known failure.

Of course, Apple’s failures in social media now look like success, given the corrosive impact some services have had. “Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies,” Apple CEO Tim Cook has said.

But Apple hasn’t lost interest in finding some way to make use of casual, person-centered, and networked computer communications. That’s the space it’s exploring with SharePlay.

What is SharePlay?

Apple describes SharePlay as a set of tools you can use to share music, TV, movies, and more with other people in real time using FaceTime. The company is climbing aboard a set of trends here, as shared listening and movie watching parties became popular across some age demographics during the pandemic.

These are the primary ways Apple is offering up sharing across its apps in SharePlay right now:

  • SharePlay supports screen sharing, which becomes a “simple and super effective way to help someone out and answer questions right in the moment,” said Apple SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi.
  • A Shared with You tab makes content such as images, websites, news links and so on available in the relevant apps. You may see an image you recently received in a Messages thread in the Shared with you Tab in Photos, for example.
  • For Apple TV, SharePlay provides shared playback controls so all participants can play, pause, or jump ahead.
  • In FaceTime, users can share music, TV, movies, and more with others in real time.
  • FaceTime calls also extend beyond Apple devices for the first time — anyone can join a FaceTime call from their web browser on Android and Windows devices.

What about the developers?

Apple has also created an API so developers can build support for their own apps into FaceTime. Right now, the API seems focused on media sharing, which is why the likes of Disney+, ESPN+, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount+, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch are implementing support for SharePlay.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.