As you know, iOS 6 brings with it richer, prettier sharing invoked by tapping the standard Share button in apps. Unfortunately, the operating system predetermines your choices which typically include Twitter and Facebook, plus certain app-specific features like Email, iTunes, iMessage and more.
This is a far cry from Android. In Google’s operating system, apps can broadcast their services, making it possible to send an image from a third-party photography app directly to an email client, using your app’s specific contextual options advertised in Android’s standard Action Bar.
Should Apple implement a similar solution in iOS 6?
In Android, when you install, say, the Gmail app, you can send an image from a gallery app directly to the Gmail app using the Action Menu, which creates a new Gmail message with the image attached to it.
You can’t do this in iOS. That Apple’s operating system is still lacking this capability has been ticking me off.
Android makes it super easy for apps to broadcast their features system-wide.
You’re on the go and use the minimalistic iA Writer app to outline a blog post idea. As thoughts evolve, you wanna continue your work in the Evernote app. As it ain’t possible to send stuff to Evernote directly from iA Writer, you just manually paste your notes to Evernote.
There has go to be a better way.
iCloud partially solves this by syncing documents between devices, but that’s on a per-app basis, meaning you still need iA Writer for the Mac to edit the app’s documents on desktop. Documents in the Cloud is usable to keep content synced across devices on a per-app basis, but other apps still can’t access each other’s private Documents folder.
The Files.app concept which taps iCloud, though intriguing, would only bring headache by exposing the file system to the user.
Don’t bet on Files.app: Apple worked hard to hide the file system from the user.
Steve Jobs said a few years ago that “the file system management is just gonna be an app for pros and consumers aren’t gonna need to use it”, which is just how iOS has been designed and what OS X is striving to become.
On the Mac, however, apps can lend their services to other apps through the Services menu. Lex Friedman of MacWorld speculates iOS 6 could adopt a similar approach in order to facilitate simpler sharing between apps.
Notice how iOS 6 presents sharing options as a grid of icons instead of list of options. It’s also interesting how for some services like Twitter, Mail or iMessage iOS 6 uses the corresponding app’s icon.
Wouldn’t it be nice if other apps could register their specific services with the iOS 6’s Share menu? Enter Action Sheets (not to be confused with Share Sheet in iOS 5). This mysterious capability was first spotted on a slide Scott Forstall put up during the WWDC keynote.
Nobody knows what Action Sheet is, but Friedman has a hunch. Here’s how he thinks sharing in iOS 6 could work, using the Instapaper app as an example:
If Instapaper could register as a service for that sharing sheet, however, it may make the process simpler. You wouldn’t need to deal with the hassle of installing a bookmarklet, and you could use an easier-to-access iOS function for saving articles to Instapaper.
I like this idea a lot and hopefully Apple’s on it. We need a simpler way to share and exposing apps’ features system-wide seems like a way to go. Just steal Android’s Action Menu, will you? MacStories editor Federico Viticci isn’t sold on Action Sheet, speculating in a blog post:
Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to be the case. From what I hear, the new Action Sheet – while graphically more appealing and intuitive – still won’t allow developers to broadcast their apps as services to other apps.
Developers will be able to add their custom buttons to an Action Sheet; but it looks like the long-awaited Services menu won’t come with iOS 6 either.
Some developers have already taken matters into their own hands. A good example is Camera+, my favorite iPhone photography app. In most recent version, Camera+ has an API other apps can tap to use its camera functionality and image library.
Tweetbot supports this functionality so when you tweet an image, you can choose to take a photo or import existing image from your library, but also choose to snap/import an image via Camera+.
Tapping the latter option brings up the Camera+ interface where you can snap a photo and make basic edits. When you’re done, you’re taken back to Tweetbot with the edited image imported, ready to be tweeted.
This is how iOS apps could interact with one another if Apple implemented a way for them to register their capabilities with the system’s Share menu.
And if Apple adopts Broadcom’s new BCM4334 chip across the next iPhone, sharing apps’ documents between iOS devices and Macs could be implemented via AirDrop, a wireless sharing feature which first appeared in OS X Lion (it requires dual-band WiFi support to enable direct peer-to-peer file transfers).
This concept video illustrates how AirDrop sharing might work.
So there you have it, three things Apple can do to improve how sharing works in iOS:
1. implement AirDrop in iOS for wireless document transfers between Macs and iOS devices
2. allow apps to broadcast their capabilities to the system’s Share menu, akin to Android’s Action Menu
3. provide APIs to let apps make their specific features available to other apps, something like the awesome Tweetbot-Camera+ integration, but implemented system-wide
Of course, I’m just speculating here and your guess is as good as mine so feel free to tell us what Apple should do to make sharing in iOS even easier.