YouTube Is Finally Bringing Picture-in-Picture to the iPhone and iPad

YouTube Picture in Picture iOS 14 Credit: iDrop News / Elijah Fox
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After years of neglecting to add picture-in-picture support to its native iOS apps, it looks like YouTube is finally ready to get with the program, announcing plans late last week to bring PiP support to both the iPhone and iPad.

Although Apple only added picture-in-picture support to the iPhone last year with iOS 14, the feature has actually been available on the iPad for much longer — since iOS 9 was released in late 2015. Despite this, however, YouTube has never shown any interest in supporting the feature on Apple’s larger tablet, forcing users to resort to workarounds if they wanted to stream a YouTube video while working on something else. 

In fact, for years, YouTube remained one of the very few mainstream video apps that failed to offer PiP support on the iPad. However, when Apple expanded PiP to the iPhone in iOS 14, we were cautiously optimistic that this could finally prompt YouTube to roll out proper PiP support in its native app. This optimism was also bolstered by the fact that YouTube and Apple generally seemed to be getting along much better, with the iPhone maker adding support for the codecs required to handle YouTube in 4K on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. 

Unfortunately, not only did PiP support remain missing in YouTube after iOS 14 was released, but it began to look like YouTube was cracking down on it even in Safari, restricting it only to YouTube Premium users.

Although YouTube reversed course on this only a couple of weeks later, it wasn’t clear whether this was a bug or a deliberate move that the company later reconsidered. 

According to a new statement to MacRumors, however, it appears that YouTube will finally be updating its iOS app with built-in picture-in-picture support, and the good news is that it ultimately won’t be limited to YouTube Premium subscribers.

It does appear that it will be starting with YouTube Premium customers for the initial rollout, however, YouTube has also made it clear that it plans to eventually roll it out to “all US iOS users as well.”

Picture-in-Picture (PiP) allows users to watch YouTube videos in a small mini player while simultaneously browsing outside the YouTube app on their mobile device. We’re starting to roll out PiP for YouTube Premium members on iOS and plan to launch PiP for all US iOS users as well.

Statement by YouTube to MacRumors

Notably, YouTube limits background audio playback to Premium subscribers due to its partnership with Vevo and the record labels for hosting music videos. These videos are ad-supported for YouTube viewers, but of course, those who are merely listening to them don’t see the ads, so YouTube needs to be compensated in some other way.

It appears that this restriction won’t exist with picture-in-picture support, however, which is interesting since it’s technically possible to swipe a PiP window off the edge of the iPhone or iPad screen, effectively putting it into a “listen-only” mode.

We’re not certain that it’s even possible for YouTube to limit this aspect of PiP so that it’s only available to Premium subscribers, but if not, it’s going to effectively eliminate the restrictions on background playback.

That said, it looks like Google may simply choose to avoid this by disqualifying music content from PiP entirely — at least for non-Premium users. Google told 9to5Mac that the “free PiP will not work for music content in the US” and that it will continue to display ads for all other content. 9to5Mac also further clarifies that YouTube’s PiP support will be made available to Premium users worldwide — not just those in the US; it’s the rollout to non-premium users that appears to be US-only, at least for now.

Like most new features in Google’s apps, it appears that PiP support is something that has to be enabled on the back-end, rather than as an update to the YouTube app.

Some YouTube Premium users are seeing the feature already, however, it’s still being rolled out slowly, and we haven’t yet seen it appear on any of our devices — even with the latest YouTube app update.

How Does YouTube PiP Work?

When it does become available, however, it’s expected to work just like it does in any other app — simply start playing a video in YouTube and then swipe back to the Home screen and whatever is currently playing should show up in a PiP window.

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