Hand-in-hand with its FaceTime enhancements, Apple is also bringing a much richer media sharing experience to iOS 15, allowing users to watch movies and TV shows and listen to music together, as well as share their iPhone and iPad screens for the first time ever.
From a media perspective, it’s not really all that different from what other services like Disney+, Hulu, and Plex are already doing, except of course that it’s going to be baked right into iOS 15 (and iPadOS 15, tvOS 15, and macOS 12).
Basically, users will be able to start watching a show in the Apple TV app, or listening to a playlist in Apple Music, or watching or listening in any other participating app or service, and then automatically share that with their friends for a synced experience.
This will also tie in with Group FaceTime so that everybody can be hanging out on a video call while enjoying their favourite media or music together. It will stay in sync for everyone on the call, and there will be shared playback controls, so anybody can pause or skip forward or backward.
Plus, in the case of Apple Music, users will have a shared play queue where they can add songs, iTunes DJ style.
In the case of watching videos, it’s integrated tightly into the iOS experience, with features like picture-in-picture allowing one viewer to jump into another app without interrupting the feed, and playback controls always accessible via a notification-style banner that appears at the top of the screen. The video can also be extended to the Apple TV, with an iPhone/iPad as a second screen running FaceTime or Messages to stay in touch with the rest of your viewing party.
Apple will also be providing a SharePlay API to allow other video streaming services to get on board with supporting this in an iOS-native way, and so far, there’s quite a long list of partners who have committed to supporting SharePlay, including Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount+, NBA, TikTok, MasterClass, ESPN+, and more.
We suspect this is yet another aspect of Apple’s Video Partner Program for premium streaming services, in which they get a larger cut of subscriptions in exchange for supporting key features of Apple’s ecosystem.
Sadly, the one thing Apple didn’t mention was whether everybody in the SharePlay group has to be a subscriber or have purchased the content in question (in the case of iTunes Movies and TV Shows). While we certainly think it would be fantastic if Apple has found a way to allow this, due to the way that copyright and licensing rules work, we’re not optimistic.
Apple might be able to lead the way for this with Apple TV+ content, since it owns all the rights to the shows it produces, and it would be a great way to promote the service. However, unless Apple has managed to play serious hardball again with the rest of the movie, TV, and recording industries, it’s very likely the rules will be different for just about everything else.