Will You Be Able to Watch YouTube with iOS 14’s Picture-in-Picture Mode?

iOS 14 PiP on iPhone Credit: Jesse Hollington
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With picture-in-picture mode coming to iOS 14, we’ve heard many people pondering exactly what this means for popular apps like YouTube that could most effectively take advantage of it, and unfortunately the answer is still a bit complicated.

You see, while Apple is offering picture-in-picture mode to iPhone users in IOS 14, it’s still up to the individual apps to actually support this mode, and thus far YouTube hasn’t shown any intention of doing so. Keep in mind that YouTube has already had five years to get with the program — picture-in-picture has been available to iPad users since 2015, when iOS 9 was released, and yet the YouTube app has not taken advantage of that. This may not be particularly surprising when you consider the support for iPadOS split screen view also took almost five years to come to Gmail.

However, does this recent Gmail update mean that there’s hope for the YouTube app to add picture-in-picture support? Especially now that the iPhone will be gaining support for it as well? Maybe, but we’re not holding our breath.

To be fair, it’s not clear exactly why YouTube remains out of the PiP party. It could be a deliberate decision on Google’s part to avoid the feature, but more likely it’s just the same general disinterest that keeps many of its apps lagging behind supporting the newest iOS and iPadOS features. While some have suggested it could also be related to the codec problem that’s prevented 4K YouTube videos from being available on Apple TV (although that will soon change), that’s never been an issue for purely 1080p HD content. Either way, even though tvOS 14 is also expanding picture-in-picture video support for the Apple TV, there’s no indication that YouTube supports it yet on that device either (although it stands to reason that apps will have to be updated for tvOS 14).

Still iOS 14 isn’t adding any new capabilities that Apple hasn’t already been offering to YouTube for years now in iPadOS, so it’s hard to see why this should suddenly prompt Google to change course.

What About YouTube Premium?

To be clear, this isn’t even a question of needing to be a paid subscriber to YouTube’s Premium tier — PiP doesn’t currently work on the iPad even for YouTube Premium users — a frustrating experience for those who are actually paying for the service. Although Apple once prohibited developers from locking core iOS functionality behind in-app purchases, this was dropped from Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines some time ago.

Right now, however, all that YouTube Premium actually does it allow YouTube to continue playing audio in the background, which is something that’s been available on both the iPhone and the iPad since iOS 4 was released almost a decade ago. YouTube simply blocks this capability for non-subscribers, due to the potential to use the YouTube app as a background player for listening to licensed music videos — naturally the record labels want their cut in this case, which is one of the reasons why YouTube Premium exists in the first place.

So How Can I Watch YouTube Videos in PiP?

Fortunately, there’s a simple workaround for this: Use Safari to view watch your YouTube videos if you want to use picture-in-picture.

Since Safari is Apple’s own browser, it naturally supports all of the latest OS-level features, including picture-in-picture, and any video that can be played in full screen in Safari can also be played in a PiP overlay. This has been possible on the iPad since the feature first debuted in 2015, and it works just as well on the iPhone in iOS 14 — and you don’t even need to be a YouTube Premium subscriber to take advantage of it.

Unfortunately, if you have the YouTube app installed, all YouTube links will open in the app instead of in Safari, however you can simply copy the link through the YouTube “Share” option and then paste it into a new Safari window.

However, if you don’t really need the full YouTube app experience on your device, you can also simply uninstall it. Once you do this, all of the YouTube links you find on the web will simply open in Safari by default, letting you view them in picture-in-picture mode right away without having to deal with the cumbersome extra step of copying and pasting links.

To actually watch a YouTube video in a picture-in-picture window from Safari:

  1. Open the link to the YouTube video that you want to watch.
  2. Put the video into full screen mode by tapping on the button in the bottom right corner.
  3. Swipe up (or press the home button) to return to the iPhone home screen,
  4. The video will continue playing in a PiP window that you can resize of move around the screen, or even swipe off to one side to temporarily put it out of the way.

You can also use this exact same workaround on the iPad right now in iPadOS 13, and in fact it’s been possible to do this on the iPad since iOS 9, and it’s actually the reason that some of us don’t even bother installing the YouTube app on our iPad, and iOS 14 has those of us asking whether it’s worth keeping it on our iPhone either.

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