Apple is bringing one of the trendiest streaming features to iPhone users with the launch of SharePlay in iOS 15 later in 2021, allowing FaceTime users to stream online videos, music, and movies together with friends.
The development allows FaceTime to compete more directly with Houseparty, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram, which all offer users video chat while watching stuff as a group. In addition, it allows Apple a chance to hook new generation users on FaceTime. However, the service is still missing some key points to make it happen, particularly for Gen Z most likely to use it.
SharePlay, announced last week and likely arriving in the fall, will let FaceTime users stream and share media in real-time from Apple TV, Mac, iPhone, and iPad. It is a neat tool for the pandemic age, and it takes inspiration from the watch party modes that several streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Hulu, among others, added last year (1).
For services where it is not supported, such as Netflix, there are several popular extensions that allow simultaneous chatting and streaming.
It is worth highlighting that Apple is not aiming to compete with those native platforms. After all, users are still watching Disney Plus, but in a different place.
Instead, the update puts FaceTime against services such as Facebook Messenger that dominate messaging and have already been attempting to create co-watching experiences; however, without as vital services as Apple can offer (2).
SharePlay Makes Sense for Gen Z Streamers, But it Needs Wider App Support for Efficient Work
While SharePlay makes sense for teen streamers, the next generation of iPhone users is more inclined to watch videos on their phones (3). As a result, video-based social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok are massively popular among Genz (4). Moreover, an overwhelming mass of them have access to these apps on their smartphones (5).
Notably, video chatting is also pretty popular among teens, as per a 2015 survey from Pew Research (6) highlighting that more than 59% of teens in the United States video chatted with their friends.
It is either video or vanish for businesses targeting Gen Zers. According to Cisco’s estimation (7), the video will account for 82% of global internet traffic by 2020, up from 75% in 2017. It further added that live videos would grow 15x over the period and account for over 17% of the traffic.
Notably, half of all video traffic comes from smartphones. And according to a Google study (8), seven in ten teens feel more connected when watching with others.
Moreover, the introduction of SharePlay also squares with Apple’s reported plans to compete more directly with Facebook’s WhatsApp by turning its iMessage more of a social network (9).
It makes sense that the company would similarly pour capital into developments for its video-calling product, which is only a trickle of taps away.
However, if Apple is looking at SharePlay’s success among the demographic of the audience most likely to use it, it will need to expand the number of apps that support it.
Services Included on Apple’s SharePlay at WWDC
Apple introduced a cohort of features as a part of its FaceTime update in iOS 15. They were designed for shared experiences such as co-watching TikTok videos, tv shows, listening to music, screen sharing, and more on a FaceTime call. The feature, named SharePlay, allows real-time connections with friends and family while hanging out on FaceTime by integrating access to apps from within the call itself, explained Apple.
In its WWDC, Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, Apple demonstrated the new feature, showing how iPhone users could press play in Apple Music and listen together as the music streams to everyone on the call.
There are also shared playback controls, which allow anyone on the call to play, pause, or jump to the track.
The tech giant also showed off watching video from its Apple TV+ streaming service, where the video was synced in real-time between all call participants. It was a popular trend in the coronavirus pandemic as people looked to virtually watch tv and movies with friends and families, prompting several services to add native co-watching features.
However, Apple’s SharePlay goes much further than streaming video and music from its own services.
The tech giant announced a set of launch partners for SharePlay, including TikTok, HBO Max, Disney+, Twitch, NBA, MasterClass, Paramount+, ESPN+, and Pluto TV. It is also making an API available so developers can integrate their apps with SharePlay. It can include other interactive platforms such as collaborative whiteboards, for example, and won’t remain limited to video or audio.
What is more interesting about the API integration is that the content access will be up to the applications. So while an app such as Disney Plus would need both users to be subscribers, other developers may allow access for the other people if they prefer. The content will also be played locally, not streamed, and the audio being played will duck when participants speak.
Users can also screen share via SharePlay to do multiple things, such as browse or show off mobile gameplay, suggested Apple (10).
According to Craig Federighi, Apple SVP, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, screen sharing is also a simple and effective way to help someone and answer questions right at the moment, and it works across all Apple devices.
While Apple stated at the launch that several steaming platforms would be supported on SharePlay, we believe it is a somewhat limited grab bag of streaming service options.
Well, yes, there is plenty of time for that list to get longer before iOS 15 is officially launched to users in the upcoming months. Moreover, Apple has also said that SharePlay will be available to any streaming app that wishes to support it. Hence, we hope we will see wide adoption down the road.
Notably, some of the best apps for the feature have failed to make their way into the tech giant’s initial slide of supported services.
Netflix is perhaps among the most obvious of these simply on the basis that most people have a Netflix login, whether they are paying for it or not, at least until the inevitable password crackdown (11).
However, Apple didn’t mention YouTube either, and neither the company had commented on the potential support down the road.
YouTube, in particular, appears like a huge miss for Apple, especially when it comes to Genz (12). As per a Business Insider’s small survey (13), 62% of young people are daily YouTube users. Another report from The Manifest (14) highlights that 89% of Gen Zers use YouTube weekly. The report further showed that most generations check YouTube weekly, even 52% of Baby boomers, making YouTube the only platform with such reach.
YouTube hosts about every digital media format imaginable from movies, music, news, tutorials, personalities, live feeds, etc. However, most importantly, it is free.
As video callers tend to skew younger population already (15), applications with highly shareable content such as live streams seem like the most beneficial use case for SharePlay outside of live sporting events. That is particularly true considering that for paid services, each participant in a SharePlay streaming session will require a login for the platform.
While Apple has stated that it will be up to platforms to ask for credentials or not, we don’t believe it will be happening at all. After all, if the tool didn’t need credentials and allowed anyone to join in a FaceTime stream of a paid service’s content, SharePlay would become a piracy nightmare. Let’s not forget how these services already frown up on all of us for sharing accounts.
Regardless, the bigger question is, are users ready to pay up to stream a title with friends?
The Puzzling Part of SharePlay
It is a question that makes the practical application of SharePlay a bit of an enigma. For example, streaming a movie premiere or a game can be expensive.
For instance, if you are watching NFL coverage on Sling TV with your friends, you will need a 35 USD subscription to join in, assuming that the content is available in one of the service’s basic plans. Or, say you wish to watch a Premier Access release such as Cruella on Disney Plus, you would need to pay the eight USD monthly subscription cost plus an additional 30 USD early access tickets (16).
It is hard to imagine that most users will pay for a service to FaceTime while they are watching a title.
Then again, considering the recent media consumption trends among Gen Zers (17), SharePlay could be part of the future of entertainment consumption, at least for the Apple users’ younger subset.
It makes sense that the tech giant, which invests heavily in its services offerings, would jump on the watch party trend, if not a little late. Moreover, it also feels like a natural way for Apple to stay relevant and sell hardware and subscriptions even if right now.
We believe that free social-learning services and streaming giants are most likely to witness success in the future. At the same time, live streaming platforms appear likely to perform the best. However, they will have to be on SharePlay for it. And as of now, many of them are not.
What Else Apple Announced At WWDC 2021?
Apple’s WWDC is its annual conference for software makers. Last week, the conference kicked off with a two-hour keynote address that showed off a cohort of new updates for its major products (18).
Here are some important points:
The Possible End of Love Fest Between Apple and Developers
Normally, WWDC is a love fest between the tech giant and developers who keep its massively profitable App Store chugging.
However, it was different this year. The heated argument over App Store fees between Apple and big developers such as Spotify has spilled into the public notice in the past few months. That is especially apparent with the legal battle between Apple and Epic games. The two firms went through a three-week-long trial last month, and the judge’s decision has the power to alter the power dynamics between app developers and Apple.
In the past, developers used to remain silent on their complaints with Apple’s App Store rules. However, thanks to the overall anti-big tech sentiments in the western governments and groups such as Coalition for App Fairness (19), developers now feel encouraged to voice their complaints.
Apple’s New Features Can Drive Zuck Absolute Mad
Notably, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg had needled Apple hours before its WWDC conference.
In a post on his Facebook Page (20), Zuck announced a new Facebook feature allowing users to tip social media personalities. He added that Facebook is not charging until at least 2023, and when it does, it will take less than the 30% fee Apple charges iPhone apps via in-app purchases.
And if you thought Zuck was angry with Apple before today, especially after the battle between the two titans after Apple announced its new privacy feature, the cohort of new communication features Apple announced for iOS 15 were sure to leave Zuck infuriating in Facebook HQ at Menlo Park.
As we stated, these new features created a closed-off social network for Apple, allowing Apple users to share Apple News stories, Apple Music tracks, and even hold FaceTime chats with non-iPhone users.
Zuck has already stated that he considers Apple as a major competitor because of iMessage. And now Apple is creating even more social features natively into iOS.
And, of course, Apple will boast privacy of these social features, unlike Facebook.
iOS 15, The Newest Version of iPhone
The new software version will typically be released for most users and new iPhones in the fall. However, early adopters and developers can start using earlier, typically during the summer months.
Check out the full event here:
Below are the most important updates:
- New update for Apple Maps with more details and 3D models
- Users can now use Apple’s AirPods to improve hearing
- New software for its iPad, called iPad OS 15 that allow users to perform multiple functions with more efficiency and ease
- Several new privacy features
- New service, iCloud+ with additional online privacy features, most notable one includes Private Relay and Hide My Email
- iPhone can now monitor if its users are walking steadily and warn them if they are at risk to fall
- Launch of WatchOS 8, newest version of Apple Watch software with portrait photo watch face, a mindfulness app, and more
- Integration of Apple’s HomePod Mini with Apple TV and other products
- Launch of MacOS, Monterey, which can share a keyboard and mouse with an iPad with a feature called Universal Control
- Introduction of tools to turn photos into 3D models, which are crucial for augmented reality
Usually, Apple doesn’t offer stats on how widely users use Siri. However, in the event, the tech giant announced that 600 million devices use Siri per month.
Before wrapping up the event, Apple stated that the tech giant had paid over 230 billion USD to developers since it was launched. And over 600 million users per week.
Notably, the company announced that it would enable developers to maintain multiple product pages to test which text and graphics work best to gain consumers. It would also market vital apps on the App Store via a new feature named Events.
Apple has been under intense scrutiny from regulators and developers globally for its App Store fees and rules. However, it is the only way for most iPhone users to install apps on their smartphones.