Google’s new iPhone YouTube app explored

The arrival of iOS 6 heralded the departure of several features from iPhones and iPads, some of which had been fixtures of iOS since the very first version of the operating system — Google’s built in Maps and YouTube apps.

While some users have been angered, and many have been confused by the sudden disappearance of the default YouTube app, Google has turned the situation an opportunity to update its YouTube app and bring it more in line with their other mobile offerings. The new YouTube app is available now from the App Store for iPhone only — native iPad/Universal support has not yet been incorporated.

It becomes immediately apparent upon starting the new YouTube app that Google is aiming for greater consistency across its apps — the interface and layout is strongly reminiscent of the iOS Google+ app, albeit without the flashy animations and distinctive typeface. Users are immediately launched into a “home feed” which includes recommendations and content from channels the user follows on YouTube. If the user chooses not to sign in to their Google account upon first starting the app, they are simply presented with featured content.

A slide-out menu at the left side of the screen gives users direct access to their subscribed channels — which are not searchable and do not appear to be organized alphabetically for some reason — and, from there, the channel’s feed, uploaded videos and playlists. Tapping on an individual video allows the user to view the video, description, statistics, related videos and comments. Unlike the old YouTube app, it’s possible to watch an inline video on the information page when the device is in portrait orientation, allowing for easy review of the video’s information while watching. Rotating the device into landscape automatically makes the video full screen.

While watching the video, the user is able to like, dislike or share the video. It may also be added to the user’s Watch Later, Favorites or custom playlists, or flagged as inappropriate. The share function allows the user to post the video to Google+ (from within the app), Twitter (via iOS’ built-in Twitter functionality) or Facebook (after authorization via the external Facebook app) as well as share the URL in an iMessage or email. It’s also possible to simply copy the link to the device’s clipboard for easy pasting into other apps. This is a big improvement over the original built-in YouTube app, from which sharing to anything other than email was a frustrating experience.

A search function in the top-right corner of the screen allows users to either type or speak a search term and then search both videos and channels for relevant content. Search results may then be sorted by relevance, upload date, view count or rating  and then filtered by how recent the videos are, the length of the clip and whether or not they include closed captions.

The new YouTube app is mostly very good and significantly better than the old iOS offering, but there are still a couple of noteworthy omissions. For example, there is still seemingly no means to access the full movies and TV shows that are available on the full YouTube site. The main feed is also a little different from the one seen on the desktop site — videos shared by members of the user’s Google+ circles show up as being from their original channels rather than having been shared by the user’s friend, for example. Since the app already includes Google+ connectivity in its Share function, it would have been nice to see some deeper integration with the social network as a whole — particularly as it is now so well-integrated into the desktop site.

All told, though, the new YouTube app is a more than adequate replacement for the lost iOS 6 functionality. It allows its users to easily find and curate video content — though not upload from within the app — and engage with the wider YouTube community as a whole. A few tweaks here and there would make it a perfect mobile video experience — as it stands, it’s well on the way already, and certainly a big improvement over the built-in app. It’s also important that Google add native iPad support as soon as possible, as the lack of this is currently hurting its App Store user ratings quite significantly.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, YouTube is currently the No. 1 free app for iPhone as well as the No. 1 free app in the Photography genre. You can follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.