How Apple could make sharing in iOS 6 simpler

By , Jun 18, 2012

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.

Picture this.

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.


Hitting iOS 6’s standard Share button in Safari (left), Photos (middle) and App Store (right) apps brings up a redesigned menu with app-specific options. Click for larger.

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.

Brilliant.

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.

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  • Justin Amberson

    Just so you know, action sheets are a staple of UIKit. UIActionSheet is the “slide-up-from-the-bottom” dialog that appears when you touch the “share/export” button in apps like photos. I think the mention of action sheets in the banner image of the presentation just means that they are now going to be customizeable.

    • http://twitter.com/jrgibson1 Jayar

      May I ask further clarification on this?

      Does this then mean that (as stated above) Instagram might be able to have their own image and “send to” instructions appear on the Share screen?

    • jgr627

      There was a tweak on cydia not to long ago that added something like this b4 on my iPhone……I have no idea what the name of it is n I’ve been looking like a made man on the Internet for it…..any idea what the name of it is?

      • Kok Hean

        iOS 6 Photos Menu

        From Cydia.

      • jgr627

        It was from cydia n it added a share type of button across almost all and any photo sharing app…..for example somebody sends me a picture on imessage N then I could easily open it with my any of my photo apps

      • Kok Hean

        The closest that I’ve found is iSocialShare :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/nihasnebas Nihas Nebas

    i believe that ios 6 when it is released will have some few changes…………….(or not)
    ive noticed that apple has not yet made a video for ios 6……………
    i wish there are some changes atleast in the ui and also animations

  • http://twitter.com/ThePirateKid ThePirateKid

    Face Detection API oh and whats inter app audio? In-app purchased content should be interesting…

  • a.arma

    how i can change the default email with sparrow??

    • http://www.facebook.com/devnath.devonic Devnath Devonic

      download the sparrow+ package from cydia

      • a.arma

        already have it.. but when i choose mail open default mail !!

      • http://www.facebook.com/devnath.devonic Devnath Devonic

        you have to use the sparrow icon to open sparrow, the sparrow + package will integrate with function like mail photo and mail link etc… (i think)

      • a.arma

        & how i can add sparrow icon in this tweak?? ,, i knew sparrow+ is it to make sparrow the default mail serves .. but with this tweak!!

      • http://www.facebook.com/devnath.devonic Devnath Devonic

        Come on…. just place the mail app somewhere else and sparrow in its place. Done !

      • a.arma

        !!!

  • http://tavlen.tk/ Mathias Lindberg

    I’ve never thought about it and I’ve never used the Services menu item in OSX and I don’t think a lot of people really need it, but would be nice!

  • d5th

    exactly android is beter wehn iphone sucks a horses penis

  • http://www.facebook.com/vandoorn Ralph van Doorn

    For me, the biggest issue is when I want to reply to an e-mail and attach a file from a third-party app (e.g., GoodReader). This is impossible in iOS and forces me into a work-around: open the file in GoodReader and choose to e-mail, then paste e-mail text and recipients into the new mail. I was hoping that iOS 6 could solve this while still respecting sand-boxing.

    Here are two easy ways:
    (1) create a “file inbox” in the native mail app, and allow third-party apps to transfer files to this inbox via the “Open In” menu. So you could send a file from GoodReader to the mail app, then go back to the mail app, reply to an e-mail and pick up the file (or multiple files) from the file inbox and attach.
    (2) iOS could give third-party apps access to the entire e-mail inbox (not just creating a new e-mail). This way, you can reply to an e-mail and attach a file from within GoodReader.

    What do you think? Would this be possible while keeping sand-boxing in place?

  • http://twitter.com/MunkeyBuziness Jason

    Apps already register with the inter-app document exchange service thing. This could just extend that. I’m talking about the part that lets you open a PDF in mail or Safari and then choose an app to send it to like iBooks or Goodreader or any other app that has registered to deal with PDF files. This is already there so there should just be a logical extension of this functionality.

    Typically this is the “Open in” dialogue…

  • Jonathan

    iOS does have the Open In menu which is similar to the sharing menu, but lets you open things in 3rd party apps which register for that filetype. But you can’t do it from photos.