Apple Takes On Watch Party Apps
Isadora Teich wrote this article
Later this year, as a part of iOS 15, Apple wants to bring one of streaming’s hottest features to iPhone users: watch parties. FaceTime users will be able to mutually stream music, online content, and movies with friends.
Let’s take a look at the promises, limitations, and few other exciting features of iOS 15. Here’s what’s up in watch party apps.
Sizing Up The Competition
This new feature, which will enable FaceTime users to share and stream media in real time from most Apple devices, is called SharePlay.
It will come out this fall and clearly takes inspiration from the watch party craze.
Over the course of the pandemic, Disney Plus, Hulu, and Prime Video all released watch party modes.
However, Apple’s true competition is not just any of these platforms. After all, you would still be watching Disney Plus for example, just using SharePlay to connect with friends while you do it.
It would be competing with services like Facebook Messenger, which has been trying to create its own social streaming equivalents.
However, Facebook cannot offer the same service list that Apple can, as they already have an intensive line of widely used devices. Also, a number of third-party apps have already said they are onboard for SharePlay. So far, this includes:
Apple Wants To Do It For The Kids
SharePlay is an especially smart idea, considering how much particularly younger Apple users are attached to watching online video via device.
According to a survey by non profit Common Sense media, the average American teen spends over 7 hours a day viewing digital media on devices. At least an hour of this is video content. In addition, over half of 8-12 year olds and nearly 70% of teens watch online videos every day.
Data from Common Sense Media also puts numbers to a trend that we have been seeing for years. This is that more and more kids are getting smartphones younger and younger. For example, in 2015, the majority of kids didn’t have smartphones until they were 14.
In 2019, the majority of kids had smartphones by age 11. And, in 2019, by age 18, 90% of kids had smartphones.
More kids are chatting and streaming more on their devices than ever before.
How This Fits Into iOS 15
Apple may be working to make iMessenger more like a complete social media network on its own, with a host of new features. SharePlay is just one part of this. iOS 15 will contain a whole host of sweeping updates. These include:
-New features for FaceTime calls
-Tools to reduce distractions
-A new notifications experience
-Added privacy features
-Complete redesigns of basic apps
One particularly interesting new feature is Focus, which is part of a major notifications revamp.
Focus filters notifications based on what users want to focus on at different times. It allows users to block notifications and give others an away status at selected times, including during bedtime or work hours. It can use on-device intelligence to set defaults, but users can also tailor it to their specific needs.
When it is set on one Apple device, it will automatically apply to all of a user’s devices.
Other FaceTime Updates
iOS 15 offers a host of interesting new updates to make virtual communication more seamless and realistic. This includes Spatial Audio. Essentially, voices coming from an audio call will sound like they are coming from wherever a person is located on the screen.
There are also new microphone modes that can separate a speaker from background noise or even introduce it, as they desire.
The look is changing as well. For one, Apple is introducing a new portrait mode for video calls. Users can blur out the background and put themselves in focus while video chatting. There will also be a new grid view for group facetime calls. It will enable group video chat users to see more people at the same time.
FaceTime Links is another interesting update. Users can now create links to FaceTime calls and share these links via mail, messenger, or even third-party apps. They can be accessed through Apple devices of course, but also any web browser. This means that Android users can now access FaceTime for the first time.
What Do Other Popular Watch Party Apps Offer?
Currently, there are a wide variety of watch party apps to choose from.
One highly popular one is Teleparty, which over 10 million people have used for virtual movie nights. This free Chrome extension works with Netflix, HBO, and many other media streaming services.
Amazon Watch Party is limited to Amazon’s offerings but does distinguish itself from other services by letting you have a virtual media party with up to 100 people at a time. However, it is limited by what it works on.
You can only use it on a computer and it is not compatible with the Safari browser. It is important to note that almost all of these watch party apps have some limitations.
They can possibly only be used by subscribers or only work on certain devices or browsers.
Scener is another Google Chrome extension that offers something a bit different. It works with almost every popular third-party app, and can be used to host both public and private virtual film screenings.
While a limited number of people can attend private screenings and chats, an unlimited number of people can attend chat-less public film screenings.
Twoseven is another watch party app with no limit on how many people can attend events.
Everyone involved can even use their own webcam and microphone.
The Pros and Cons Of SharePlay
One big thing that SharePlay is missing so far is an OK from Netflix. Netflix has over 180 million paying subscribers. The stranglehold it has on the streaming industry cannot be overstated.
Nearly half of Americans prefer it. Only 14% of Americans prefer the next most popular streaming service, Amazon Prime Video.
While this could change before it’s released, as of now, this puts SharePlay at a huge disadvantage. A general watch party app that does not work with Netflix, while countless other popular ones already do, is not great.
Similarly, so far, it will not support YouTube either, which is a huge miss. Every year, more and more young people spend more and more time on YouTube.
However, a big pro is that it somewhat diversifies the media that groups can experience together. Most of the leading watch party apps only focus on TV shows or movies. However, with SharePlay users can access social media apps and even music in groups.
Ultimately, what this will mean for Apple and social content streaming in general remains to be seen. As there are so many streaming services and watch platforms with different rules, regulations, and levels of openness things can get confusing fast.
For example, while you do not need to have an Apple device to access a FaceTime call that may include a watch party, you may need to pay for a subscription to a streaming service to participate in whatever the group is watching.
Also, if certain watch party apps only work with certain services, keeping everything straight could be a big headache. All of these complications may somewhat turn consumers off.
Will the allure of Apple override the fact that SharePlay can’t access the most popular platforms on the internet? Or, as the world returns to normal, will the interest in this type of platform disappear?
Has Apple perhaps hopped on the train a little too late?
Or will they change how watch parties are done by incorporating exciting new options?
Tell me what you think below.
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