Listening to music together is fun, but there hasn't been cool way to share music on smartphones, until now. With the new SharePlay features on iOS 17, sharing music is an addictive experience, and it will make you want to do it more often. I’m shocked that synchronized sharing hasn’t been a bigger part of music players before, but now I’ll be looking for people who might be interested in what I’m hearing, and I’d love to sample what they’re playing as well.
Since iOS 17 is only in beta, if you want to share music right now, how do you do it? I asked around our New York City office, where TechRadar editors sit near our Tom's Guide and Tom's Hardware friends, and most of these professed geeks suggested sharing headphones.
You’ve got two earbuds, so give one to someone else, they said. Like, take your used, sticky earbud out of your own ear and pass it to someone else to stick in their strange, dirty ear canal. Blech. No thank you.
Admittedly, this was how I started sharing music in middle school, when I got my first Sony Walkman cassette player. I’d break apart my wired, headband-style earphones to pull the ear cups off and pass one to a friend to listen. It was a great way to flirt. Sit next to someone in class and surreptitiously listen to music, sitting only as far apart as the wires allow.
That was, ahem, decades ago. Have things not improved since then? I wonder if today’s generation even understands the joy of bopping along at the same time to the same tune, while nobody else can hear. My office mates wondered why synchronized music sharing is necessary. I can just send you a Spotify or Apple Music link, after all.
I think we don’t realize how fun and spontaneous and sweet music sharing can be, mostly because there hasn’t been a fun way to do it until now. Sending a text message with a link isn’t fun. It’s the same way I send someone the address to a restaurant or a request for a Venmo.
Apple has created a way for iPhones to embrace each other
Now, with SharePlay on iOS 17, I bring my iPhone close to another iPhone, and we connect. It isn’t even a metaphor, the deeper meaning is right in front of you.
There have been music-sharing options on digital players for years, but they’ve always been a bit complicated. On the Microsoft Zune (of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 fame), if you had a music subscription to the Zune service, you could send a song to another Zune user to play for a limited number of playthroughs. Microsoft called this “squirting” a song, which may explain why the feature didn’t catch on. Also, nobody had a Zune.
On today’s iPhone, if you’re not using the new iOS 17 public beta, you can still share a music session through the Messages app. When you’re playing a song, choose to share that song by tapping the Share button. Share it through Messages, and if it goes to another ‘blue bubble’ iPhone user with an iCloud account, you can start a music session.
That’s cool, but iOS 17 takes music sharing with SharePlay to a whole new level. Instead of sharing a song session through Messages, you just bring your iPhone close to your friend’s iPhone. The iPhones hug, virtually. The two phones will connect and start sharing – and there are lots of sharing options.
This new gesture will be a big part of the iPhone’s future. Whenever you meet a new iPhone user, you’re going to hug iPhones. When you do this, you’ll be able to share your new contact poster, as well as any contact info you choose to pass along.
When our iPhones hug they can start dancing together
You can also start a SharePlay music session this way. When you are playing a song on a compatible app, like Apple Music, your iPhone will ask if you’d like to SharePlay that tune. Once you’ve tapped to accept the connection, you and your friend will hear the same song at the exact same time. Each of you even gets a set of playback controls, so either iPhone can pause the song or start over at will.
This works with more than just music. You can also watch shows together. Let’s say you have a binging buddy and you watch Ted Lasso together. Shows are funnier when somebody else is laughing with you.
Now you’re both on a long plane ride and you want to watch your show, but you don’t want to share one tiny iPhone. No need! Instead, you can start playing together with SharePlay and watch the show side-by-side.
A new gesture builds a new iPhone community
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but maybe it’s been too long since we enjoyed sharing music and listening at the same time. I think the bigger deal will be the way this brings iPhone users together and encourages more sharing.
The new AirDrop sharing motion is very slick. It features a magical, wavy animation on your phone screen that lets you know you are in the presence of another iPhone (in other words, another magic wand).
This encourages interaction between iPhone owners, because it’s fun to use. It’s fun to share and see how others have set up their contact poster. Then you get to hear what they’re listening to. Apple is bringing its owners together in a totally new and unique way, and keeping them in sync. This is the sort of new experience that only the iPhone community can offer.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.