YouTube previously blocked the quirky hack that lets you stream its content using iOS 14’s picture-in-picture capabilities for free. For unknown reasons, the company has now reversed course, and you can access the native iOS feature without needing a YouTube Premium subscription. Here’s how to do it.
All you have to do is pull up YouTube’s main site in Safari. rather than using the YouTube app. Tap your way through to play a video, and then embiggen it to full screen mode using the little square icon in the lower-right corner.
Once you’ve done that, look for the picture-in-picture icon, which looks like one big window pointing to a smaller window. You can’t miss it. (It’s to the right of the giant “X.”)
Your video will shrink to picture-in-picture size, and you can now swipe out of the YouTube viewer and do whatever else you want to do on your iPhone (or iPad). You can move the video around on your screen as needed, though you’ll only be able to stick it to the four corners of your device (alas).
If Safari isn’t your browser of choice, this trick works in Chrome and Firefox, too, via exactly the same methods, and it works with any video on YouTube, including all of the service’s music videos. That sets it apart from the native picture-in-picture setup Android enjoy in their YouTube app, which prohibits picture-in-picture for musical content unless you’ve subscribed to YouTube Premium.
There is a way to use picture-in-picture mode for free within the iOS 14 YouTube app, but you need to employ a third-party workaround that drops a shortcut in your Share Sheet to a hacked-together picture-in-picture mode to do it. I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s worth taking some time to explore if you want picture-in-picture mode but don’t want to open up a browser window to get it.
As for why YouTube changed its mind and is allowing the feature to work again, who can say? But I’m glad the workaround is back. It’s uncool to ask users pay a premium for a standard iOS feature. Worse, YouTube was actively blocking one of Apple’s own apps from being able to access a native function of the operating system. I’m honestly surprised Apple didn’t make more of a stink about it, but perhaps those conversations happened behind closed doors. (The company is a bit busy with another public war at the moment).
Just in case YouTube pulls off the rare double-reversal and kills the Safari picture-in-picture hack one more time, we’ve also covered a few extra workarounds you can use to restore this functionality. We will not be kept from our precious picture-in-picture mode!
This post was originally published in August 2020 and updated in October 2020 to reflect the fact that, after a brief period, the feature it explores is once again functional.