Apple needs to open sharing APIs instead of integrating individual services

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| June 1, 2012

When Apple announced iOS 5, it announced there were 200 new features and many  much-needed improvements brought to the company's popular operating system. Among many other things, the ability to access the camera through the lock screen was added, the notification system was (slightly) improved through Notification Center, tabbed browsing was added to Safari, Newsstand was debuted along with iMessages.

Amongst the 200 new features, though, there was one tiny piece of information that came as a surprise. Instead of Apple integrating Facebook into many of its core applications for content sharing, it was announced that Twitter had been integrated. We later learned that Apple and Facebook could not come to terms and the integration was left out, at least for this version of the software.

Heading into June and approaching summer, full speed ahead, Apple rumors are in full swing. The new iPad is already out and the next iPhone is somewhere on the horizon (we're more than likely looking at a fall release). That can only mean one thing: iOS 6 is also somewhere in the not too distant future. And speculation and feature requests are at an all-time high.

One feature many people are expecting and hoping for in the sixth version of iOS is the one they find themselves missing in iOS 5, Facebook integration.

Earlier this week at the D10 conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down for an interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. When asked about the missing Facebook integration in iOS 5, Cook said he believes Apple "can do more with them. Stay tuned." And as Dieter Bohn of The Verge states, that could have very easily been a brush-off by Cook. But Cook added:

"For us, we want to provide customers simple and elegant ways to do the things they want to do. And, Facebook has millions, hundreds of millions of customers, and so, anybody that has an iPhone or an iPad, we want them to have the best experience with Facebook on those platforms."

Whether it comes in iOS 6, 7, 8 or 9, Facebook integration is likely to happen at some point. That, or Tim Cook really is fantastic at deflecting and filling our heads with false hope. Truth be told, though, I don't want Facebook integration in iOS. No, iOS doesn't need Facebook integration. It didn't need Twitter integration. And it doesn't need the integration of individual, watered-down services at all. It needs for Apple to open APIs.

Sharing content on iOS has always been a low point of the platform. It's a closed, walled-garden – just how Apple likes it. But that makes it tricky, confusing and painstakingly awful.

For example, if you take a picture with the Camera app and want to share that picture without leaving the app, the only sharing options are email, message (MMS) and Twitter. (You can also set the picture to the wallpaper, print it or assign to a contact.) Say you wanted to share the picture with Instagram, though. You would have to back out to the home screen (or use task switcher), open Instagram and go through the sharing process through that particular app. Sharing pictures or any other content with anything but Twitter is a chore. Another example of just that is trying to share a Web page from Safari with Facebook. It isn't easy and the results aren't quite as nice as they should (or could) be. (This is where a Facebook Browser could really shine.)

For contrast, the share button on Android or Windows Phone is much more friendly to third-party applications and services. Straight from the Gallery or Camera app on most Android devices, users can share to Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, Messages, Drive, Evernote, Flickr, Gmail, Google+, Path, Instagram or literally any service that uses the Android sharing APIs without ever leaving the app.

And this is one of the many reasons why I cannot use just an iPhone.

Don't get me wrong, Facebook integration in iOS 6 would be nice. It at least adds to the short-stacked sharing services. But there are a lot of other services I would like to share content to without having to leave the app I'm in. I want to share to Pocket straight from Safari. (Right now I have to copy the URL of a page I want to save, back out of Safari, open Pocket and choose to save the copied URL.) I want to share pictures to Dropbox without leaving the Photos app. And so on and so forth …

All of these services don't have to be integrated by Apple. All Apple would have to do is open up some APIs to allow third-party sharing. The problem is that method gives third-party developers some control over the operating system itself, and I'm sure Apple isn't about to allow that.

Then again, there has been some talk of Apple opening up APIs for Siri, allowing third-party applications to integrated and utilize the virtual assistant service. Maybe ... just maybe they will take a similar approach to content sharing. 

Regardless of what Apple actually does in the end, opening APIs for sharing should happen. Apple's relentless control over their mobile operating system is vastly hindering it in many ways. It maintains the second-to-none performance and keeps the UI clean. But only at the sacrifice of functionality. 

What do you think, folks? Should Apple just integrate Facebook and leave it at that? Or should they offer some APIs to allow sharing to third-party applications from within iOS core apps? Do you even care about sharing?