Just over a month ago, the Apple community learned that iOS 6, set to release tomorrow, would not include an integrated YouTube app. Google’s video streaming service has been available on the platform since its inception in 2007, but Apple’s agreement with the search engine was going to expire so it was up to Google to make its own app for the many iPhone users out there.
On September 11th, Google released a free native YouTube app for the iPhone; the iPad version was said to arrive “in the coming months.” Regardless of tablet support, Google’s official app boasts usability, a better video selection, beauty and simplicity. The search engine giant has the potential to make a great app for the iPhone, but does it live up to this promise?
It’s the Google+ App for Videos
From the start, you can tell that Google didn’t spend much time worrying about the layout of the app. Its main browsing screen has a layout not unlike Google+ app, with a few minor adjustments and videos, of course. I, for one, really enjoyed how well Google+ was brought to iOS and am glad to see that the developers successfully used the layout and user-friendliness in yet another application. Some people might argue that it’s boring and unoriginal, but I think it’s fine.
Moving on to the actual design of this app, it’s not much different from Google’s official Android YouTube app. I likened it to the Google+ app for iOS because many have used that before, but really the app is a carbon copy of YouTube for Android. The only differences are slight and bring back the look you’d expect in an iOS app, if only for a moment. Even the icon is different than what you’d expect on from an iOS app: it’s flat, looks terrible when you’re looking at it in the App Store on a computer, and looks satisfactory at best. But hey, that’s Google’s style.
For main navigation, YouTube makes use of the slide-out menu, much like Path. Many other apps, including Facebook, Google+ and Gmail, use this exact navigation scheme and implement it well. YouTube is no exception; everything was very smooth in my experience and the side menu is a faster way of finding things, as opposed to the traditional back button that would denote a full screen dedicated to a menu — the old iOS YouTube app had this. It was a more unproductive way of doing things, which is one of the many reasons why people disliked the app so much.
A Better Selection
Remember when you’d go to a YouTube video in the old iOS app and it’d tell you “Could not load movie”? This happened because those videos are monetized and require ads to be played before you can view them. It mostly applies to VEVO content and such, but sometimes you’ll encounter a film trailer or two that refuses to play on iPhone’s YouTube app.
You don’t have to worry about workarounds now, however. Google’s real app supports advertisements so you can view every video on YouTube — unless it’s “not optimized for mobile,” which still seems to indicate that the video was uploaded incorrectly. This also means that you’ll be able to find those videos in search — they’re not filtered out like in the old YouTube app.
I’m not partial to advertisements, but Google actually worked these ones into the app well. Instead of videos, as you’d expect, they’re little banners that appear in portrait mode only.
Playing a Video
As usual, you can scroll through your subscriptions on the main screen, find something that interests you and start playing it with a single tap. Everything is smooth and feels completely native. There are the typical thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons in portrait mode, along with the title and description of the video. The old native iOS app didn’t function quite this way and always forced playback in landscape mode. I’m glad to see there’s an orientation option now.
If you’re using iOS 5, YouTube links won’t open in this app. Hopefully, they can in iOS 6.
However, even in light of smooth performance, playback is lacking one major thing: a high-definition or “HQ” mode. The Android version of YouTube has this and the old iOS app used to always play things at the highest quality possible. Apple’s solution was the worst since it would take too long to buffer on a 3G connection, but Google has no excuse for leaving out such a vital feature. I’d expect there to be a quality adjustment section in the Settings pane, but no, they only added two options there: what to display in the home feed and safe search filtering. Those are all well and good, yet the developer still managed to leave out quality adjustment.
Commenting, Sharing, and Searching
When watching a video in portrait mode, YouTube has three main tabs below the content itself: Now Playing, which is the description, views and other information about what you’re currently watching; Suggested, which holds what Google thinks you’ll like if you enjoyed this video; and Comments, which allow you to troll a bit more productively on your mobile device. You can swipe left or right in one of these to navigate between them.
Comments in this app are not much better than the old YouTube from iOS 5. There’s still no way to reply, thumbs-up or -down a comment, or delete one of your own — the only thing you can do is comment. I would have expected something a bit better in Google’s official app, yet it looks like they’ve decided that we don’t need to have a conversation about a video using mobile devices.
Sharing a video in Old YouTube wasn’t anything to scoff about, but this app offers Facebook and Google+ integration along with an option to add a video to your list of things to watch later. Facebook will require that you log in to your account in Safari unless you have the app installed; Google+ is the opposite, so long as you signed in to your Google account in the app; Twitter is the usual iOS Twitter popup; emailing and iMessaging is still supported; and there’s finally an option to copy the video’s link to your clipboard, just in case you were making your own Watch It Later list.
Searching is much better than before, and now includes a voice function for the users who are in a quiet room and can’t bear to type another word on that crammed keyboard. I’ve tried searching with my voice in a crowd and it just doesn’t work, so please don’t waste your time. As for search itself, there are now suggestions which you can either tap or put in the text field by tapping the arrow. These improvements make things faster for the end user and it’s nice to see them in the app.
YouTube Now Has Ads, But the App and Selection are Better
Good things often come with a price. This YouTube app is better, and its price is advertisements. They’re not as intrusive as you’d think, just little banners in portrait mode. Elsewhere, the app has a few annoyances like the lack of quality adjustments and a boring interface. Google’s iteration of YouTube for iOS does its job well though, and I think that’s what counts. Besides, it’s just the first version and with a lot of room to improve, Google should continue developing this app into something more pleasing.