If you can't physically be near loved ones this year during the holidays—we are very much still in a pandemic, after all—one way to keep in touch is through video calls. Specifically, if your friends and family have iPhones, iPads, or MacBooks, Apple recently introduced a new feature called SharePlay that lets you do more than just catch up.
During FaceTime calls, you can share your screen to show Grandma those engagement photos. SharePlay also lets you watch movies, listen to music, or browse through TikTok with friends and family even if you're miles apart. It's a powerful tool that makes it easier to host virtual listening or watch parties (Hawkeye, anyone?). Here's how to set it up and use it.
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Update Your Apple Devices
SharePlay is a part of iOS 15.1, iPadOS 15.1, and MacOS Monterey 12.1. If you haven't updated your Apple devices recently, you'll have to do that first to use the new feature. To check your current version, head to Settings, General, About, and check the Software Version on your iPhone or iPad. If it says 15.1 or up, you're set. On Macs, go to the Apple icon on the menu bar and click on About This Mac. If it says Version 12.1 or higher, you can already access SharePlay.
If your software is out of date, don't fret. First, back up your devices. Our guide here outlines the process for iPhones and iPads. For Macs, open System Preferences after hovering over the Apple icon, click on Apple ID, and select iCloud Drive. Make sure everything you want to back up is checked off. Next, on your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings, General, Software Update, and follow the steps to install the latest iOS or iPadOS version. On Macs, go to System Preferences, Software Update, and click on Update Now.
Now that your devices are on the latest versions, you're ready to use SharePlay.
What Is SharePlay?
SharePlay is a function built into Apple's FaceTime video calling app. It's enabled by default, but you can make sure it's toggled on by heading to Settings, FaceTime, SharePlay on iPhones and iPads. On Macs, open FaceTime, head to the Menu bar, click on FaceTime, Preferences, and SharePlay.
SharePlay lets you share your screen during FaceTime calls, peruse photos in Apple's Photos app, watch a movie or show in real-time with synced playback and shared controls, listen to a new album together, or even work out simultaneously. All of Apple's apps support the feature, but third-party apps will need to support it individually. You can find a curated list of such apps in the App Store (just search SharePlay and look for the Great Apps for iOS 15's SharePlay collection), but it's a good idea to tap on your user icon in the top right of the App Store and hit Update All to make sure your apps are on the latest versions too.
How to Use SharePlay
There is no button to press specifically to start SharePlay. Instead, SharePlay can only be accessed when you're in a video call on FaceTime.
How to Share Your Screen in FaceTime
To share your screen in a FaceTime call, tap the button on the far right of the video call controls and then tap Share My Screen. A timer will start, and when it hits zero, you can swipe up to go to the home screen and the folks on the other end of the call will be able to see your screen. You'll be happy to know that they won't be able to see any notifications that come through, and if you swipe down on the notification bar, it will pause the screen-share session.
There's a purple bubble on the top left of your status bar to indicate that you're currently sharing your screen. Tap on this and you can find the controls to the video call again to stop sharing your screen.
How to Watch Movies, Listen to Music, and Use SharePlay Apps
If you want to watch something or stream music with friends or family during a FaceTime call, you'll first need to make sure they have the app. Some apps will require all parties to be a subscriber, but others may allow for a set amount of free SharePlay sessions per month. If you try to start a SharePlay session but nothing happens for the person you're video calling with, then there's a good chance it's because they don't have the app installed.
How exactly do you start a SharePlay session? If the app you're using is supported, just open it during your video call and you'll see a banner notification that says “Choose Content to Use SharePlay" or “Will SharePlay Automatically.” Tap on a movie you want to watch in Disney+, a song you want to listen to on Spotify, a workout you want to try in Fitness+, or just open TikTok to browse memes. The person you're talking to will see an option to Join SharePlay. Tell 'em to tap it.
The SharePlay experience will now start for everyone on the call. The movie, music, or workout is synced to the exact second so everyone will be watching and listening to it in real-time (that even includes time-synced lyrics for banging virtual karaoke nights). Everyone will also have access to playback controls—even skipping ahead—but don't worry, you can see exactly who paused a movie in case someone is abusing it. SharePlay sessions can host up to 32 people, so that will definitely come in handy. What's also important is that if someone starts talking, SharePlay will make sure it boosts the person's audio so they won't get drowned out by the media.
SharePlay supports picture-in-picture mode, so you can continue watching a movie or show and be on video while using another app—you'll see a floating rectangle where the movie is playing on your screen and you can drag it around the screen. You can also AirPlay the media to a nearby Apple TV or AirPlay-supported display to enjoy it on the big screen, leaving your phone or iPad to highlight video feeds from friends or family.
Naturally, the video quality of the media will depend on the quality of your internet connection. You can stream in 4K resolution via SharePlay on supported media and devices if your Wi-Fi or data speeds are fast.
If you have to hop off the call, tap on End SharePlay and you'll be given the choice to End for Everyone or End for Me Only. The latter will ensure you won't kill the whole movie for everyone else on the call. That said, you can hop back into the video call and tap Join SharePlay at any time as long as the session is still running.
What About Non-SharePlay Supported Media?
When you're sharing your screen, if you're sharing protected media, the screen will show up as black for folks on the other end. That said, you are able to get a similar experience with apps that don't support SharePlay yet. For example, we were able to share music through YouTube Music via screen share, and even YouTube videos.
When we tried to use SharePlay, our Share My Screen button was grayed out. We're not sure what caused the issue, but we managed to fix it with this workaround.
Send a custom FaceTime link to the person you're about to video chat with and join the call (have them join it too). The button was no longer grayed out. After this call, we never had to use the custom link again—after starting a video call by tapping the contact's name, the screen share button was always available.
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