Alright Already Apple, I'll Try Google's YouTube App!
Oct 22, 2012 5:00 AM PT
YouTube, an iPhone app from Google, is available for free at the App Store. When Apple gathered up Google's clothes, shoes, toothbrush, Maps, and YouTube app and kicked them off the Cupertino campus with its big iOS 6 boot, I shrugged my shoulders. It wasn't as if I spent hours each day with the old YouTube app anyway.
But then I started missing YouTube and the old-school brown TV app icon.
The app was simple, clean and uncluttered. It wasn't all that functional, but it worked well enough for some browsing, and more importantly, quick searching when you were looking for something particular, like the exhaust sound of a particular motorcycle muffler, or searching for the latest viral video you heard about.
A guy pretty much has to cave on this issue and download Google's free YouTube app.
So I did.
A Mixed Bag
Right away, the app feels less like an iOS app and more like something generic. Still, the overall look and feel is created from shades of gray, and it's somehow packed with bits of information without being exactly cluttered. I was irritated with it at first, but as I used it more, I realized that most of my irritation came from having to learn a new app rather than simply getting to the videos I wanted to watch.
Sticking with it, I eventually noticed that the search feature is built into many of the screens -- it displays as a ubiquitous magnifying glass. The placement makes the search tool handier than ever, and when tapping search terms, Google preloads common search options as you type. Nice.
To browse, you can swipe across the screen from left to right, which reveals key settings and navigation options. You can log in, add channels, and change a few settings here. Your favorite channels will appear near the top in a list, and if you scroll down you'll see browsable categories like Popular, Pets & Animals, and Sports.
Once you tap a category, you get a scrollable list of videos with large screens of the video that help you judge the video by its cover, so to speak. These categories seem to reflect the latest content that you would find on the Web-based site via a browser.
Superior Channel Browsing
Once you log in, you'll have access to the channels that you subscribe to, and I've got to say, I like how this version of YouTube displays them all in a list. I don't have a lot, but I do like how they are always right there for me, just a flick away, to browse my way into.
What I miss most is the sense of a home page for the app. Sure, you can swipe to the right and tap your login name, but what you get is just a light list of uploaded, playlists, purchases, history, etc, button bars. With the old app, you always had the bottom navigation bar to drop you back into the Featured section, for example, which made the app feel like it had a home base.
You can create a handy Home Feed that's made up of the latest videos from your subscribed-to channels, but getting to it always requires navigating back to the left-side nav column, then flicking up or down to find what you want. I would love it if the top YouTube icon on the app would deliver me back to some home screen in the app. It almost doesn't matter what it is, just that it exists. Could be the Home Feed or your own login page.
Watching the Action
The default orientation of the app for most searching and browsing is vertical, which means playing a video while upright makes the video too small to enjoy. Through the magic of an accelerometer, however, Google takes the video full screen if you turn your iPhone horizontal. It's snappy and works well. You can tap a button, too, if you want, but once you lock the action into your brainstem, you probably won't ever bother to tap it.
As for quality, some users on the iTunes app review page are complaining about not being able to get HD video. I can't figure out if I'm getting it or not, but in general, I can say that I'm often confused with the video quality as it shows up on my iPhone 5. Via WiFi or AT&T 4G, sometimes it seems super, amazingly sharp and other times fuzzy for no good reason. Sure, the quality of the original video can play a role, but videos I've watched previously in other ways have been clearer.
This quality trouble could be due to my Internet connection or even the result of my iPhone 5 fighting to choose between a poor WiFi connection and a strong cellular data signal. At the same time, when something goes wrong, it's really unclear what happened or why. As I tried to watch a "Will It Blend?" video of the iPhone 5 vs Galaxy S3, the screen went mostly black and simply said, "General error." Another error message gave me an exclamation point icon with "Error loading" and "Tap to retry." When I tapped the text to reply, the video loaded fine.
As for this app on your iPad? Not yet. Coming soon, Google says. So no iPad watching unless you're Web browsing.
Last of all, you can't AirPlay to your Apple TV. This isn't terrible, but really, the feature ought to be built in and work well.
Get Ready for 30-Second Ads
Of course, Google has to make a buck somehow, so it didn't take long for me to run into a 30-second ad about some dude in a laundromat accidentally dropping and picking up some hot chick's yellow panties. Seriously. I like panties as much as the next guy, but I couldn't figure out how to make the ad go away, nor do I remember what the ad was selling in the first place. Whatever agreement Apple used to have in place with Google, well, I don't ever remember seeing ads via the YouTube app.
Nor do I remember ever seeing yellow undergarments either.
With Google's version of the YouTube app, you win some and lose some.