IOS 6 removed YouTube from the operating system’s default apps. At first, people thought this would be a major problem. After all, Google isn’t the most reliable iOS developer out there. Fortunately for iPhone users, the developers created a nice alternative to the original YouTube app and released it just over a week before iOS 6 was released. But it’s limited and has ads, so what about something a bit less restricting?
Several individual developers have brought YouTube clients to the iPhone with most of them being poorly developed or only halfway there. However, there is a nice-looking alternative from developer Jason Morrissey, creator of Alien Blue, a Reddit client for the iPhone and iPad. He’s named it Jasmine, and it’s free, but exactly how good is it?
Searching and Browsing
A lot of people simply browse YouTube; others search for exactly what they’re looking for. Jasmine offers a far better experience than the original iOS YouTube app did. Gone is the boring default iOS user interface, the limited search results, the limited like and dislike features. Jasmine introduces a new kind of experience: not one of Google’s standards. And no, the fancy user interface is not the only thing it boasts. There’s functionality as well.
Jasmine’s search button makes use of a fancy animation — the button flips over and reveals the last text you typed in — to bring up the text field which, when typed in and the checkmark selected, will yield 25 results, followed by more if you choose to load them. That’s all there is to searching.
Browsing, on the other hand, is filled with some additional wonder. Tap the Browse button to explore featured videos, trending ones, all-time hits, top rated and favorited ones, most viewed, most discussed, and channels. Most interesting of all is the Channels discovery feature which allows users to browse categories to find an interesting user.
Google’s new YouTube for iPhone is limited in its ability to play content well. It’s plagued by two problems that the developers should have fixed: there’s no AirPlay and there’s no quality adjustment. For most, the former is enough to sway them towards any alternative so long as it offers that feature. Good streaming quality is also something users like, and there are times when 3G connections can’t serve that 720p video anytime in the hour. Jasmine solves both of these problems.
AirPlay doesn’t need any explanation, you should already know how to use it from within any app. This client just happens to have it for YouTube, which is helpful. As for quality adjustment, Google’s app offered nothing. I like to choose what quality stream I’m going to watch to conserve bandwidth and such, but Google thought that was unnecessary. Thankfully, Jasmine has an option for it in the settings menu under the Advanced section. There are even loop controls and rewind/fast-forward button options in the Playback section.
As for usual playback of a video, there’s not much to say. All those fancy sharing and like/dislike buttons aren’t in the player — they were in the native app on iOS 5 and before — nor are they in the app at all. Sharing is available with the Share button, but like and dislike features are both excluded from the app. Even commenting works, strangely. It’s unclear why the basic functions of liking and disliking a video were left out of Jasmine; I hope they make their way to it sometime in the future.
My all-time favorite feature of this app is its ability to play audio from a video in the background while you use another app. It’s priceless and completely unique.
Something I miss from the old YouTube app is the description and other info alongside the video. It was nice to have that and the comments to read while the video was buffering. Jasmine does offer the traditional description of a video, just before you start watching it and not during. There’s no multitasking offered and while that’s disappointing, it does help performance.
Subscriptions and Favorites
Every YouTube publisher wants more subscribers, so it’s only fitting that every viewer be able to browse subscriptions easy as ever. Jasmine makes that happen — almost. On the main screen, Subscriptions is merely a shortcut to a new column. Once there, you must find what channel you’d like to browse or view the latest videos from all of them in chronological order.
Subscriptions does its job fine, but I think there should be a faster way to access it, though. The function could benefit from a classic TweetDeck-like column customization that would set defaults to be opened at launch. (This is on the iPad, of course.) Now even though it’s laid out a bit differently than the traditional iOS app, even a few shortcuts on the main navigation column would help. Right now, the problem with these columns is that they either waste space or make the content one more tap away, which is unnecessary.
Last of the features is Favorites, the place users put all their favorite videos. This isn’t actually a YouTube feature, at least not the kind you’d expect. It’s built in to the playlists feature of Google’s Web app, which means that when you add an item to your favorites in Jasmine, you’re adding it to a playlist that can be watched in the order you’ve organized the videos.
At the beginning of this review, I described Jasmine as “nice-looking.” It’s much more than that though, and there are secrets hidden around the interface for a bit of customization. For instance, tapping the jasmine flower at the top of the screen will switch off the lights for a dark night mode. Your video might be brighter than this, but at least browsing won’t hurt your eyes so much.
Something that would feel natural in this style of app is a swipe-away gesture for closing the columns like on the iPad. Instead, however, it employs something completely different and unexpected. If you’ve ever pinched a photo to close it in the iOS Photos app, then you already know how to close one of Jasmine’s content columns — pinch it. This is a fantastically simple way to manage what you have open in the app and it works very well.
YouTube: Simplified, Ad-Free, and Adorned
One of the problems with Google’s YouTube app for the iPhone is that it’s ad-supported. Jasmine is free and supported only by the purchase of the Pro version, which isn’t even available right now since the app’s in-app purchase mechanism is broken. I highly recommend you do purchase this in the future if you plan on using it a lot, because the developer deserves compensation for his work.
The only downside of using Jasmine as your YouTube app is that it won’t open links from Safari like Google’s official one for the iPhone does. This isn’t a big problem for most people, but it does mean that you’ll have to do more searching in the app rather than the browser. There should be a feature to paste a YouTube URL for viewing in the app rather than just searching and browsing. Other than the little things, this app is by far the best thing available for accessing YouTube on an iOS device, even if it’s not running iOS 6.