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YouTube stays relevant in an increasingly crowded space

By Eric Celedonia / September 6, 2013


YouTube recently launched the 2.0 version of their native iOS application, complete with new features and a tweaked design. With so many mobile video players now on the scene, it was a necessary move.

In this first installment of my new series, App Design Review, I take a look at what YouTube changed in their redesign, break down what worked and suggest what they could’ve done differently.

Highlights

A “lighter” design

First off, the new design is very polished. Not only have the transition animations received some attention, but the lightweight design is highly attractive. In fact, over the past year or two Google has become a trendsetter on iOS with beautifully executed apps like Gmail, Chrome, Maps and Hangouts. These apps prioritize user experience, allow the content to speak and successfully let power users be power users.

Picture-in-picture mode

YouTube’s new picture-in-picture (PIP) feature gives you the ability to watch a video in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. All it takes is a quick downward swipe of whatever’s playing. As a result, you can do the ultimate multitasking — watching cat vids while searching for dog ones at the same time.

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Although this playback window is fixed to its position, some might argue that the inability to move or manipulate is a drawback. However, the playback window is currently positioned in a way that never obstructs any important content that can’t be scrolled. It even moves out of the way when the navigation is opened.

It’s important to remember that the primary function of this feature is to allow a user to either preview what’s being broadcasted or continue listening/watching while performing a new search. With the window’s current position and size, both of these criteria are met. In future updates, and very possibly in the tablet release, we could see a range of available options for viewing PIP video.

Made for Chromecast

Chromecast integration is another major improvement, thanks to the addition of a Chromecast toolbar button. Prior to Chromecast, sending a video to your TV set required a Google TV device or a PS3 (and, of course, a wired connection). Now with the Chromecast button, users can select which Google device they wish to use for playback, and can even use their Chromecast dongle with their iPhone.

“Play all” in playlists

YouTube and Google are no doubt aware of their audience’s wants and needs, and that the want on mobile was playlists. As you probably know, YouTube has an enormous audience that uses the service for listening to music. This younger audience typically doesn’t have the money or resources needed to subscribe to Spotify or Rdio, and often times a custom radio stream like Pandora just doesn’t cut it.

Additionally, many foreigners in the U.S. use YouTube as their primary music service. It’s free, it streams, and it’s got just about every song from across the globe, both new and old. Users can now search specifically for playlists and use a continuous playback of all videos in that list without ever touching the device.

Drawbacks

Lots of swiping

The shortcoming of picture-in-picture is that it now takes two separate swiping actions to exit out of a video. You need to tap the PIP icon or swipe downward, then push the picture off the screen with a left or right swipe. At first glance, this seems a bit strange or taxing, but users will get over it in time. They’ll just have to consider it part of the give-and-take with the addition of the PIP feature.

No top comments…yet

YouTube comments are downright atrocious, but it’s worth noting that this latest update is missing the top-rated comments. Like a good Reddit post, they can give you a few laughs at times and it’s nice to actually upvote the quality comments. The inability to vote on and view top comments is negligible though.

It’s easy to see that implementing such a system would require a fair amount of time in UX design as well as API construction and implementation. My take: it’s always better to leave out a secondary feature that isn’t complete or can’t receive the attention it deserves before launch. That being said, it would’ve been nice to at least be able to view the top-rated comments even if they can’t be voted upon.

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The design verdict

YouTube 2.0 has a three-star rating on the App Store, but I don’t see that lasting too long. Most of the complaints reference crash bugs that are most likely the result of users not updating their software. The rest of the negative complaints come from the typical change-averse users who are really never satisfied. Honestly, if you’re a designer or developer working in mobile, you’ll soon be referencing this app as the gold standard on iOS.