It's no secret that Android has lots of good stuff going for it, but one of the platform's most useful and distinguishing features is one you rarely hear discussed.
I'm talking about Android's system-wide sharing capability -- a process built into the operating system that many people take for granted. Android's sharing function may not sound exciting, but don't be fooled: It's one of the most powerful and valuable components the OS has to offer.
Android's sharing capability, known to developers as a form of "intent," is about more than merely sharing in the social-oriented sense of the word. It's a way for you to quickly and easily pass data between applications -- anything from a Web page to a chunk of text or even an image.
The most important part about Android's sharing system? Any application can take advantage of it; all a developer has to do is declare his program capable of receiving data, and boom: It'll show up throughout the OS as a place to which data can be shared. That's a sharp contrast to the setup on certain other (ahem) more restrictive mobile platforms, and the resulting difference in usability is enormous.
But enough geek-speak; let's take a look at what this actually means in real-world terms. Here are a few ways you can make Android's system-wide sharing work for you:
• Tap and hold your finger on any text -- in an email, on a Web page, or within most any application -- and highlight a few sentences. Then tap the share icon (it looks like three dots connected together in the shape of a less-than-sign ("<")) and you'll see a list of apps to which the text can be sent.
With one more tap, you can beam the text directly into an app like Gmail, Google Drive, Dropbox, Google Voice, the stock text messaging tool, or practically any social application. There, you'll be able to edit it, save it, and post/send it as applicable.
You can even share the text to Google itself to initiate a fast Web search -- a great way to cross-reference information or get a definition on the fly.
• Tap the "Share" command in your phone's Web browser. That'll let you send the current page's URL directly to any share-ready application -- in order to share it with a colleague via email, for example, share it onto your favorite social service, or save it to a read-it-later tool like Pocket or a note-taking tool like Evernote. Everything's interconnected -- no extra steps or awkward app-toggling required.
• Tap the share icon while viewing any image in your device's Gallery. You can then send the image directly to a photo editing utility like Pixlr or Snapseed, where it'll instantly pop up, ready to be fine-tuned. You can send it to a cloud storage service like Picasa, Dropbox, or Drive, where it'll be saved to any remote folder you want. You can send it to pretty much any social app -- a Facebook or Twitter client of your choice, Google+, or whatever floats your boat -- and post it to your account right from there. Or you can send the image to Gmail or any text messaging app to attach it to an outgoing message.
• Tap the share icon next to a file in any file management application -- whether a local file manager for your phone's storage or a cloud file app like Dropbox or Drive -- and you can send that file directly to any other storage service, be it cloud-based or local. You can send the file over to an app like Gmail as a new message attachment, too, or to any other share-ready service that makes sense in the context.
The possibilities are practically endless, but you get the idea. Once you get used to using Android's system-wide share function, you'll wonder how people -- particularly those who use other (ahem) less accommodating mobile platforms -- live without it and deal with data in such unintuitive ways.
It's a little thing, but man, it makes a big difference.
Subscribe now to the Blogs Newsletter for a daily summary of the most recent and relevant blog posts at Computerworld.