YouTube dashes hopes for picture-in-picture support on iOS once again

A deleted tweet said PiP was coming in "a matter of days," but now YouTube says it was actually referring to YouTube TV.

PiP support in iOS
Ian Campbell / Input

YouTube has been testing an “experimental” picture-in-picture (PiP) feature on iOS for over a year, and despite a now deleted tweet claiming the company was introducing the feature in “a matter of days,” YouTube has clarified that only it’s live TV streaming service YouTube TV will get PiP — at least for now.

PiP — The ability to watch YouTube videos in a mini-floating window on iOS has been possible intermittently since the release of iOS 14, sometimes through workarounds using Safari, and other times as an officially supported feature for YouTube Premium subscribers.

YouTube’s test of its PiP feature ended last week (per an in-app deadline). A tweet reply (thankfully transcribed by MacRumors) answering a question about the former Premium feature from one of YouTube’s support accounts today suggested it could soon expand to all users:

Are you using an iOS smartphone? If so, the Picture-in-Picture feature is still rolling out & will be available in a matter of days across all iOS 15+ devices. Tweet back @ us if needed.

YouTube has since deleted that tweet and explained that it was a mistake:

“Just to clarify,” YouTube writes, “what's currently being rolled out is the YouTube TV picture-in-picture for iOS 15+ devices.” When asked for comment about the future of PiP on iOS by Input, YouTube shared the following:

We're continuing to test PiP on iOS for the mobile YouTube app with Premium members globally and hope to make it available to all iOS users (Premium and non-Premium) in the U.S. soon. PiP is currently available to all Android users in the U.S.

Schrödinger — YouTube on iOS is completely usable without PiP, I’m comfortable admitting that. Not supporting it would be unusual, since most video services already do on iOS, and the YouTube app on Android has no problems with it. I can rationalize the decision though — maybe some features need to be saved for Google’s own platform.

What’s strange is how the rollout of this seemingly minor video feature has been fumbled through opaqueness. There might be added difficulties making it work on iOS, but you wouldn’t hear them from YouTube. For example, the Apple TV 4K didn’t play 4K YouTube videos for a long time because Apple refused to support the VP9 codec. But the fact that picture-in-picture seemed to work without issue for Premium subscribers would suggest this isn’t a technical problem. Maybe it’s a business one then.

We might never know. For now, things are stuck somewhere in-between. PiP support is perpetually around the corner until the day it actually comes.