Apple's new iOS 15 feature SharePlay could be a game-changer for those in long-distance relationships. If you missed WWDC, SharePlay lets you listen to music, watch TV shows or movies in sync, and share your screen with the person on the other end of a FaceTime call.
It works on iPhone, iPad and Mac, and presents shared controls so either participant can play, pause, or jump ahead. SharePlay even works on the Apple TV, so you can watch shows or movies on the big screen while chatting over FaceTime.
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My four years in a long-distance relationship immediately came to mind as Apple revealed the feature on Monday. Two of those years were just before the pandemic; I was working out of the Laptop Mag office in New York City and my girlfriend, now wife (long-distance relationships can work!), followed opportunities from Austin to Detroit.
Anyone in a similar situation will agree — long-distance relationships are difficult. Crucial to making them work is the ability to share information, be it photos, texts, or links to things you've discovered around your area. Our connected world and the devices we keep with us at all times — phones and laptops — make this possible. What's missing in a long-distance relationship are shared experiences. My wife and I created these when we visited each other on the weekends, but having these types of spontaneous moments remotely was awkward and frustrating — and only exaggerated the distance between us.
SharePlay has a chance of building a virtual bridge between two people so they can share experiences in real-time. That luxury didn't exist a few years ago. My wife and I desperately searched for platforms that let us play in-sync movies while on a video call, but came up empty-handed. Sites claiming to offer this feature were either too sluggish or asked for a troubling swath of personal information. We abandoned hope and instead used the trusty "Ready? 3-2-1 — press play!" syncing technique.
If SharePlay had been around a few years ago, this long-time Android user would have switched platforms. After all, phones are best used as a way to keep in touch with loved ones. If the iPhone or MacBook gave me a way to be closer to my wife, I would have tossed out my Dell XPS 15 and OnePlus 8 without a pang of guilt.
The success of SharePlay will ultimately depend on the support it receives from major streaming services. As it stands, the feature works with Disney+, ESPN+, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount+, Pluto TV, TikTok and Twitch. That's an impressive starting roster although Netflix, which has its own Teleparty feature, is notably missing.
I use long-distance relationships as a possible use case for the new features but SharePlay arrives during the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when some friends and families have been separated for more than a year. I hope SharePlay won't be needed and that the pandemic is on its last leg so shared experiences can happen in person — still, it's nice to know there is a way to dance to a song or laugh at a movie with friends, even if you can't be in the same room.