Even if you never think much about it, you’re likely keenly familiar with your iPhone or Android’s built-in share sheet. This is the menu that appears when you want to share something with a contact or another app, and it typically offers a slew of options to choose from.
However, you might notice, every now and then, an app doesn’t let you use the usual iOS or Android share sheets, and instead serves up its own option. This might not bug you—as long as you can share what you want to share with who you want to share it with, it’s all good, right? Well, not so much.
Why do apps have their own share sheets?
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Honestly, it’s not entirely clear. But there are some key advantages for apps to offer users a proprietary sharing menu as opposed to the one native to their smartphone’s OS.
For one, an app can add specific in-app functions you wouldn’t find on the stock share menus. Consider TikTok: When you hit the share button, it’s custom in-app share menu comes equipped with a lot of options you won’t find on the share sheets for iOS or Android. At the top, you have TikTok controls, like “Repost” and “Add to Story,” but you also have the ability to DM the video to another TikTok user, something you can’t do with the stock share sheet. That option also keeps you on TikTok, rather than encouraging you to message someone outside the app.
That doesn’t mean TikTok won’t let you share to other apps: Those options are located in the middle of its menu, with options to share to Snapchat, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram. You can also choose to text the video, or copy the link. Along the bottom, you find more TikTok controls, including “Report,” “Not interested,” and “Save video.”
Flexibility in sharing and control options is likely one reason for the custom options, as is aesthetics: These share menus often sport UIs that match their host app much more closely than iOS or Android. TikTok’s share menu looks like any other screen you’d find in the TikTok app, as do YouTube’s and Instagram’s. In-app share menus may be the product of a design choice as much as anything else.
In-app share sheets might be tracking you
However, one TikTok creator, Chris Carley, claims apps use in-app share sheets for tracking purposes. In this TikTok, Carley contends apps are able to track your sharing activity when using their share menus as opposed to iOS’ or Android’s stock options. It’s possible TikTok has no idea you shared that video to your Instagram story, or to a friend over text, if you share it from the built-in share sheet, but it can follow the same activity when using its own share menu.
I can’t find any information online supporting this claim. No coverage has compared in-app share sheets versus Apple’s or Google’s options in the first place. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover this tracking is possible. We do know apps can track everything you do when using their in-app browsers, which is why it’s always better to launch a link in your dedicated browser than stick with the app’s default option. (I’ve reached out to TikTok for confirmation on Carley’s assertions, and will update the story if I hear back.)
You’re missing out on great features by using the in-app share sheet
Questions about tracking aside, these share sheets obscure useful features built into the stock share sheets that users won’t know exist unless they look for them.
Case in point: SharePlay, a great feature on iOS that lets you share content with other people while on a FaceTime call. Apps that support SharePlay should be obvious, because when you go to share something, you’re supposed to see a big green “SharePlay” button at the ready. But, as Carley highlights in another TikTok, because apps like TikTok and YouTube present their share sheets first, you’d never know they actually support SharePlay at all. But they do!
The same thing applies for iOS’ AirDrop and Android’s Nearby Share. Both features are inaccessible on in-app sharing menus, and you’ll need to access the built-in share sheet to use them. Luckily, you can do so pretty easily.
How to force an app to show your phone’s built-in share sheet
If you want to access the built-in share sheet to see if your app supports features like SharePlay, you’ll need to look for a specific button to do so. This button differs depending on the app, but it often presents as a “More” button: On TikTok, you need to hit the share icon, then scroll all the way on the middle row to find the “More” button, which opens iOS’ and Android’s share sheet. The same applies to YouTube: You need to hit “Share,” then scroll all the way over to “More.” On iOS, you’ll find “SharePlay,” but you’ll find a host of other sharing options on both iPhone and Android. Reddit, at least, doesn’t require you to scroll to tap “More.”
Instagram is different, though: You need to hit the share button, then choose the “Share to” button.