Last week, I made a video about 4K YouTube finally coming to the Apple TV… and the iPhone and iPad as well. Kinda. Maybe…
And… it prompted a ton of other questions about why YouTube is just so damn quirky on Apple products… and in general.
Everything from how links open… or don’t, why picture in picture works in Safari but not the app, and just how it all works… and doesn’t.
So, let’s answer all that.
I talked in-depth about 4K YouTube coming to Apple TV and maybe the iPhone and iPad as well in previous video. Link in the description.
And, as of the latest beta versions of tvOS, iOS, and iPadOS, it’s still all shades of wonky.
Some people are still seeing 4K YouTube on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad, some on one or two of those and not the others, and some still on none of them.
A lot of you are asking about 4K YouTube in the Safari web browser for Mac as well, because you prefer it over Chrome and it’s higher battery drain.
No final word on that yet either but I will point out that part of Safari’s battery life advantage is that it uses hardware acceleration for the H.265 codec, built into Apple’s custom T2 chip. That wouldn’t work for YouTube’s VP9 codec. So, even if we do get 4K YouTube in Safari for Mac it’ll still hit the battery harder. Not as hard as using Chrome, but harder than watching H.265 4K would.
Because the codec world is terrible and the next-generation, hopefully once-again universal, AV1 codec just can’t come fast enough.
Apple introduced picture-in-picture for the iPad back in 2015 with iOS 9. The idea is, you open a video app, start a video, leave the app, and have the video continue to play in a small, floating window on top of the Home screen or over other apps. Also, move it around, hide it, kill it, go back full screen, all that good stuff.
It works automatically in Safari or any app that uses Apple’s built-in media playback controller, but developers can add the feature to their own, customer playback controller as well.
Something YouTube has chosen not to do, not in the last 5 years, not at all.
You can still watch in picture-in-picture by opening Safari, going to YouTube.com, playing the video, going full screen, and then exiting the app. Yeah, like an animal.
My guess is it’s because YouTube decided background audio should be a Premium, subscriber-only feature and picture-in-picture would just totally negate that.
But, since picture-in-picture does negate it, and you can always do it in Safari, I wish YouTube would reconsider, come up with some other premium perk, and just add it to the app. Because the best experience should always be in the app.
Especially since Apple’s adding picture-in-picture to the iPhone with iOS 14 now as well. And it will work — or feel broken — in exactly the same way as the iPad.
If you want it to change as much as I do, drop a like below.
Universal links and deep links were introduced in 2015 as part of iOS 9 as well. They’re supposed to be a way for content to open in an app instead of on the web, and not just open the app’s start page, but go to an exact place within the app.
In this case, tap a YouTube video and instead of opening the video on YouTube.com, it should open the YouTube app, skip the YouTube home page, and take you directly to the video you tapped on.
Apple even makes it secure, so only YouTube.com can redirect links to the YouTube app and no one can try to hijack you into a scam app or anything.
And even though that type of universal and deep linking has been available for 4 years, they often seem like they don’t exit… like at all.
The reason for that, most times, is that you’re tapping the YouTube link inside a Twitter app, or Instagram, or something similar that embeds its own browser using the Safari View controller.
Now, that’s meant to be a convenience, so if you see an article or something on Twitter and tap it, the interface just slides over and you can read the article, then tap ‘done’ and slide right back, right where you were in Twitter. You know, instead of getting booted into Safari and then having to manually swipe or tap your way back, also like an animal.
But, it means when you tap a YouTube link, you’re being kicked into that same embedded web browser instead of the YouTube app.
Now, some people prefer that. Some people hate the idea of being kicked into the YouTube app. Even the idea of apps for websites in general. Just let the web be the web, they say. To those people, I say delete the YouTube app so you can’t be kicked into it and let the rest of us enjoy our Inception.
Staying in the embedded web browser would also be better if we still kept our login credentials from Safari proper and be in our actual YouTube account. But, for security-over-convenience reasons, Apple locked that down after a few sites tried to steal those credentials. Which is why we can’t ever have nice internet things and have to log in separately now. Like… I’m not saying it again.
Of course, the real only acceptable solution would be for iOS to pop up a requester the first time you tapped on a link asking you if you wanted the web browser or the app, let you pick between them, and also let you pick the app you want to go to, and set that as your default, and change those preferences at any time in Settings
Apple is only starting to introduce default apps with email clients and web browsers in iOS 14 though, so baby steps.
But if you want that too, let me know in the comments below.
Apple introduced Continuity and Hand-off back in 2015 as part of iOS 8. With it, you could sync not just data between devices but the actual state of an app.
So, for example, you could start writing a message on your iPhone, walk over to your Mac, have the Messages app pop up for you, and if you click on it, be taken straight to that message, and just keep on writing exactly where you left off.
The same should work for a video. Start watching YouTube on your Mac, get up to leave, swipe up on your iPhone, tap the YouTube banner, get taken straight to the YouTube app, to that video, and continue watching exactly where you left off.
But… you guessed it, YouTube hasn’t implemented Hand-off either.
Like Picture-in-Picture, you can work around it using Safari and YouTube.com, and it works up until the most important part — it takes you to the video, it just doesn’t take you to where you were watching. It starts over.
Now, Apple has also almost completely failed to implement media hand-off across most of their apps as well, so while YouTube should absolutely feel Game of Thrones level shame here. There’s plenty of that shame to go around.
One of the questions I get asked the most is why YouTube notifications don’t work. For my videos specifically and for all videos in general.
And the horrible, terrible, soul-chilling answer is that they do work — exactly the way YouTube wants them to.
Let me explain. No… there is to much. Let me sum up.
Once-upon-a-time you could get a subscriber and count on YouTube showing that subscriber every new video you uploaded to your channel, always.
But over time, YouTube realized most people didn’t actually watch every new video from every channel they subscribed to. Especially on channels that had a wider variety of content.
Maybe you saw a terrific Ferrari video so you subscribed to the channel, but the next video was on the F150 and the one after that on the new Lambo. Maybe you only like super car videos so you only watched two out of the three. Maybe you only like Ferrari, so you only watched that one.
Now, YouTube is an advertising platform. They make money by showing ads. If you don’t watch, they can’t show ads, which means they can’t make money.
So, if you subscribe but don’t watch every video, YouTube slows and eventually stops showing you those videos. Yes, even if you still subscribe.
Now, a lot of you good-hearted nerds will say this isn’t a problem. Nothing goes over your head. Your reflexes are too good. You catch them.
By which I mean, you live in your subscription tab and so you may skip the ones that don’t really interest you, but you never miss them.
And that’s true. For you and very, very small percentage of other good-hearted nerds. But the vast majority of people don’t do that. The vast majority of people only go to the home page or see what’s in suggested.
See, we nerds, like any incredibly active and vocal minority, often mistake ourselves for a majority, no matter how much evidence there is always is to the contrary.
I mean, just ask any YouTuber and they’ll tell you YouTube analytics proves this out every damn day.
I get about 30-40% of my views from subscribers on any given video, and most videos never get seen by every subscriber. Just look at the subscriber number then the view counts.
Some people average about 10% and have an enormous disparity between subscribers and average views. Even and sometimes especially old, huge channels.
And that’s because YouTube learned to show people not what they said they wanted, but what their behavior proved they wanted. Not what they subscribed to, but what they clicked on.
Kinda. YouTube also discovered that the more outlandish the content, the more people watch. So if you look up one science video on the Megalodon, it’ll suggest 900 deep water conspiracy theory videos for you instead of the next video on the iPhone or Mac from a channel you’ve watched 900 times.
It’s also why you hear people talk about “niching down”. In other words, making videos on the same, not different topics. Because if someone subscribed for the Ferrari video, chances are they’ll watch another Ferrari video, and not, say, a gaming or cooking video. Hell, maybe not even a F150 video.
Now, some of you will quickly point out that iJustine or MKBHD or Peter McKinnon or another giant YouTuber can upload whatever they want. Which, also true. But when you have 10 million subscribers and personalities like that, the regular rules just don’t apply.
And even then they kind do. If you look over any huge channel, you’ll see off-topic videos, and also things like Q&A, BTS, that type of stuff, typically get way less attention the content that made them famous.
And that’s why you typically hear creators asking you not just to subscribe but to turn on the bell, and not just the bell, but the ‘all’ option under the bell, because that’s really the only way to make sure YouTube even tries to notify you when a new video gets uploaded.
So, long story already way too long, if you want to make sure you get reliable, consistent, rock-solid notifications from YouTube on your iPhone or iPad or at all, hit the subscribe button and set the bell to “all”.