Screen sharing from the Messages app: a handy yet under-used feature

By , Feb 11, 2016

Messages Screenshare feature

The Messages app has included a way to initiate screen sharing with an individual that you’re talking to, starting with the release of OS X Yosemite, but it is a severely under-used feature. Screen sharing from the Messages app includes a lot of useful features that could displace all those expensive VNC apps you might be buying from the App Store or Mac App Store.

In this tutorial, we’ll be showing you how to start a screen sharing session with an individual you’re messaging via the Messages app on your Mac.

How to initiate screen sharing from the OS X Messages app

The feature is very much hidden from plain sight, but it’s not impossible to access. OS X’s Messages app has a function built into it to launch the hidden Screen Sharing app built into OS X, and it’ll connect you to that person using your and their iCloud account.

If you’re interested in initiating a screen sharing session with someone you’ve been iMessaging on your Mac, you can follow these steps:

1) Launch the Messages app on your Mac and choose an iMessage conversation with a person you want to share screens with.

2) Click on the “Details” button at the top right of the Messages app.

screen sharing from os x messages app 1

3) From the pop-up menu, click on the screen sharing button.

screen sharing from the os x messages app 2

4) Choose from the menu that appears whether you want to share your Mac’s screen, or request to share the other user’s screen.

screen sharing from the os x messages app 3

Note: We are going to be asking the other user to share their screen with us for this tutorial. Props to Sebastien for being available!

5) After clicking on the “Ask to Share Screen” button, OS X will then tell you it’s waiting on a response from the other person.

screen sharing from the os x messages app 4

Note: If you wish to cancel this request, you can click on the “X” button to the right of the progress bar.

6) Once accepted, your Screen Sharing app on your Mac will launch and you’ll see a preview of the other user’s screen, as shown below.

screen sharing from the messages app

It’s worth noting that at this point, you’re only viewing their screen, not controlling it; but there are options built into the app that let the other user provide you with access to controlling their screen if they want you to. You’ll also be able to talk to the other person while you share the screen, which is a particularly useful feature if you’re trying to guide someone through a process of doing something.

What the other person sees on their end

Assume for a second that you were the person on the other end that was receiving the request to share your screen instead of being the person that was asking someone else to share their screen with you – what would you see?

First, you would see a notification banner at the top right of your Mac’s screen, just as Sebastien did when I tried to connect with him:

screen sharing from the os x messages app 6

Here’s a closer look:

screen sharing from the os x messages app 5

After clicking on the “Accept” button to accept my request to share his screen, Sebastien then saw a screen sharing icon in his Menu Bar, which he could click on to see who was connected, allow me to control his screen, mute the microphone, pause the screen sharing, or end the screen sharing session with me:

screen sharing from the os x messages app 8

Here’s a closer look:

screen sharing from the os x messages app 7

Why you would want to share your screen

Screen sharing is particularly useful when you’re troubleshooting and are asking for someone with more expertise than you to help you without making them drive over to your house to look at your computer. Obviously, if you are having internet issues, then this wouldn’t apply (bummer!).

It’s also useful for when you want to provide a presentation to someone, because you can have someone watch your screen as you explain something to them. Whether it’s a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, or you’re simply trying to show someone how to do something on your Mac, this feature can be incredibly useful.

Moreover, we think Apple made a good choice in making the feature available from the Messages app in OS X, because typically, when you need someone’s help, you’ll reach out to them in a message first to ask “Hey, are you busy? Do you think you could help me?” and at that point, it’s very easy to initiate a screen sharing session to better describe what’s going wrong.

Conclusion

The ability to initiate a screen sharing session from your Mac’s Messages app is easy to do and will come in handy time and time again for OS X users. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t allow OS X users to connect to users of other platforms, such as Windows, Android, or iOS.

Related:

If you found this tutorial helpful, let us know in the comments below.

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  • Harsh Sac

    Wow! That’s an insanely useful hidden jem…!
    Thanks for pointing it out!
    Now if someone could just create a tweak on an iOS device that would allow cross-platform screen sharing…

    • Anthony Bouchard

      I’m happy you found this post useful! As another reader pointed out, this feature may work with Veency in Cydia. I’ll have to confirm this at a later date.

  • TJ

    I use screen sharing quite a lot, been using it for years with iChat and now it’s evolved and is still available in Messages. Comes in handy for taking control of someone else’s Mac to show them how to do something.

  • TechnoBuff

    Never knew this existed actually.Good job
    One of the reasons IDB is one of the best blogs to go for some Apple related tech tips and tricks!

  • schoeberlt

    Best solution for showing keynotes and dev process to my business mate

  • Radu

    works on iOS with Veency (Cydia) installed as well 🙂

    • Anthony Bouchard

      Thanks for the tip, I’ll check this out at a later date 🙂

  • Kmoxstar

    I love this feature. I use it to help my parents out on their macs.

  • I use this almost every day to fix my different family members macs. It’s so much easier to just take over than to try to explain what to do

  • White Michael Jackson

    Wow i really install teamviewer for this feature. Time to uninstall

  • stniuk

    Is there a way of doing this with yourself? What I mean is using the same account so you can screen share to another device owned by you. Handy if you are in another room and want to monitor something on the computer.

  • Jonathan

    Huh, I never knew that was there. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anthony Bouchard

      No problem!

  • [RECON1]

    Huh. Very interesting! Maybe it’s just me, but I find it odd that it says “iMessage with (number) but to the left it will show the contact name. Why doesn’t it show that as well at the top of the message?

  • MJB

    This is a GREAT feature… I was using Skype previously to do this. Now I can stay native!

    My only question is… Can you share with others who are not using iOS or Mac OS X?

    • Anthony Bouchard

      This feature is OS X-specific right now. Although one commenter reports it can be used with Veency on a jailbroken iPhone. I’ll have to look into this at a later date.

  • I so love this feature. I use it all the time with my IT clients. If you have friends or family with Macs, use this if you need to help remotely.

  • Brent Shelton

    My option is grayed out. Any idea why?

    • Anthony Bouchard

      Do you or the other person have “screen sharing” disabled in System Preferences?

      • Brent Shelton

        It was turned off so I turned it on, restarted Messages, and still grayed out. Weird.

      • Anthony Bouchard

        Is the person you’re messaging using a Mac to iMessage you?

      • Juan Manuel Flores

        Hi Anthony, can I share my Mac’s screen to an iPad user? Or it just between Macs? If that it’s the case, which app would you recommend?

    • Steve Riggins

      Make sure both sides are signed into iCloud as well as iMessage. See if that helps. Worked for me, but that could have been. Side effect of hours of trying (I was on the same network debugging because I could not get it working remote, which was ironic)

  • Steve Riggins

    Note: if either end is signed into iMessage but not iCloud, the share option may be disabled. Took me hours of fiddling to get the option to enable between my Mac and my mother’s, and they were on the same network at the time.

  • Dave

    I’ve known about this issue since it was introduced, but almost NEVER get it to work. And this is with no firewalls, and Airport Extreme’s on both ends. Usually the icon is just grayed, but even when its not, the connection seems to fail. When I search the Internet, I learn that I’m not alone either. So I’ve coughed up money for Screens / Screens Connect instead. It’s always reliable, and removes the need to open up firewall rules and map ports (same as Apple’s solution, when it works).

  • iByron

    Awesome! I can use this to help my folks three states away! Thanks!