The Aktienblatt is both the best and the worst that can happen to Android. In theory, it’s a powerful built-in feature that lets you share content from one app to another and that should make it easy to send photos, files, videos, and links to your most precious contacts with just two or three taps. However, the reality is far from this ideal. The suggested contacts on the top line “Direct Sharing” rarely consist of people you talk to regularly and far too many apps (including Google apps!)
Sharing on Android has already improved over the past few years, but it’s still far from optimal. Before Android 10, loading the system share sheet was a frustrating exercise. It wasn’t cached at all, which means that every time you invoke it, the system had to check which apps you had installed and which ones you were most likely to share based on some unspecified hints. As a result, apps randomly switch places and provide a super slow loading experience. It is likely that this unsatisfactory situation also led to what are known as custom share sheets – alternative in-app sharing features implemented by app developers that often mirror the system-wide sharing dialogue.
Back then we already did begged Google to fix the worst problems, and the company mostly listened. Android 10 introduced the fast and responsive system sharing sheet as we know it today, with a top row of suggested contacts from different apps, a second row of suggested apps based on what you share, and an alphabetical collection of other destinations (all others suitable apps for the content concerned).
While the Share Sheet is way faster and just better these days, sharing content on Android remains a frustrating experience.
The problems and possible solutions
There are two problems with the current implementation of the share menu: custom share sheets and direct share targets. We come to the first topic. Tons of apps use their own share sheets, with Google apps being one of the main culprits. These custom versions offer some features that are not available in the Android system share sheet, but often contain far fewer share targets than their system counterparts. There is also no consistency at all. Each app does things a little differently, which makes it difficult to remember how to move around each menu.
Custom share sheets in a variety of apps including Google apps.
In Google Photos, after pressing the “Share” button, you can select additional images to share and send photos to contacts within the app. You can also share with in-app contacts using Google Maps. Google Chrome also gives you access to some nice features in the sharing menu, such as: B. the option to send a tab to your other devices or generate a QR code. Twitter also has a custom share sheet with options to bookmark a tweet, send it to another user,
or add it to a fleet. Drive and the rest of Google’s productivity suite don’t even tap the Android sharing menu. The list could go on and on with TikTok, Facebook, and many others, but you get the basics – there’s no visual consistency, and actions can vary greatly depending on the app.
If you look at some of the apps in your system sharing sheet on Android 11 (or 12), you’ll notice that they have little drop-down arrows next to their name that signal that you’re opening a menu as you type. This menu is where you’ll find some of the same specific sharing options that you sometimes find in the app’s custom sharing sheet.
Left: Custom Chrome Share Sheet. Middle right: Chrome options in the system sharing menu.
That’s the case with Chrome: the custom sharing sheet has five options – share a screenshot, copy the current link to your clipboard, send a link to your devices, create a QR code, and print it. In the system sharing sheet, the app still offers two of these options, printing and sending to your devices. It’s probably trivial to add QR code functionality here, and the system share sheet already supports copying a link to your clipboard so you don’t have to duplicate that option. You’d lose the screenshot feature, but then again, you could just take a screenshot of your system – it actually doesn’t require Chrome to have a built-in variant of this feature. That leaves us with the conclusion: Google Chrome could easily do without its custom share sheet (and it actually did without it, too.) until August 2020).
Left: Maps custom sharing menu. Law: Mockup for Maps sharing options in the system sheet.
It’s a little more complicated with apps like Maps or Photos, which allow sharing with in-app contacts. But here, developers could just add an entry to the drop-down menu on the system sharing sheet that says something like “Send to Your Contacts”. If you’re sharing from photos or maps, you might have to do an extra step, but at least the Share menu would be consistent across all apps. In any case, Twitter proves that this is possible. In addition to its custom sharing sheet, it has a drop-down menu on the system sharing menu that lets you choose to tweet, send a DM, or add to a fleet.
There could be a better option that gives us the best of both worlds, if I may suggest so much. What if app developers could get an extra line in the system release sheet for some custom in-app actions?
Left: Chrome custom sharing menu. Center: Android sharing menu. Law: Mockup with Chrome options in the Android sharing menu.
I have modeled what I am envisioning above using Chrome as an example. I’ve added the relevant four sharing options from the custom menu to the system share sheet and I think this is the most elegant solution. App developers could keep their special sharing options, but users wouldn’t have to take any additional steps just to share an app that a developer didn’t include on their custom sharing sheet. For Google Photos and Maps, developers could add in-app contacts to this line as share destinations, possibly with an additional button to bring up additional contacts. I know these contacts could clash with the contact suggestions in the top row, but maybe in-app contacts could replace the usual direct sharing suggestions instead?
Solution 3: in-app redirect
Forwarding as an option to avoid an in-app share menu in Telegram (left) and WhatsApp (center & right).
Then there are also apps that go a completely different way. Messenger like Telegram and WhatsApp found an elegant solution for in-app sharing by introducing the concept of forwarding via an additional button. If you click on this forwarding button, you will only be able to select a contact from WhatsApp or Telegram to forward media or a message. However, if you click the Android sharing icon, the normal sharing sheet will appear and you will be able to share with another app. This could be an option for maps and photos as well, although I realize that from a UX perspective, changing this is not a good idea when people are used to hitting the normal share button.
The release sheet of the Android system itself also still needs to be edited. I don’t know about you, but anecdotally I’ve heard about it Charges of people who never get relevant contacts on the top line for direct shares, which is instead filled with recommendations to chat with the one guy you once DM emailed on Twitter in 2014 (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating here, but you understand the point). Google will either have to completely revise the mechanism it uses to get these sharing targets or remove them altogether. If you ask me, we could get rid of that direct sharing line altogether and use the space to introduce the custom in-app sharing options as described above – at least if Google isn’t willing to change anything about the algorithm that selects contacts.
Another idea for this direct share area is the option to select and pin specific contacts from your favorite apps, much like you can pin apps to the row below the direct share destinations. If I could just pin my fiancée, whom I chat with all the time, I would be happy.
If this sounds familiar, then you probably own a Samsung phone. Samsung has successfully addressed these issues with One UI, its custom user interface on Android. The manufacturer enables extensive changes to the system UI thanks to its suite of Good lock apps, With Up be responsible for the amendment of the Aktienblatt (among other things). Here you can decide which contacts to pin for direct sharing and select which apps should be displayed in the menu at all. You can also turn off direct sharing entirely.
It’s great to see this solution from Samsung and I’m glad it is there, but I would prefer if Google could tackle it alone and make it available on all Android phones. After all, Google often takes features from manufacturers and adds them to the underlying system for anyone to use. The company only recently added Scrolling screenshots, a Gaming dashboard, and bigger headers – all functions previously created by manufacturers.
What to do in the meantime
In the meantime, if you want to expand your stock sheet, there is basically just one thing you can do. You can tap and hold individual app icons in the sheet and pin them to the second row with suggested apps under the direct sharing targets. Chatting and sharing frequently on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Google Messenger and pinning those apps can already make things easier for you.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to prevent custom approval sheets from appearing – it’s entirely up to Google and the developers.