YouTube TV finally getting the one iPhone feature it really needs

Youtube TV app on Apple TV home screen
(Image credit: Future)

The YouTube TV and YouTube apps are funny things in that both exist separately. Hulu, for what it's worth, doesn't use a different app for its live TV services. And now, YouTube TV is about to leap-frog YouTube on the iPhone in a key (and overdue) way.

YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan shared on The Vergecast that YouTube TV on iOS will be getting picture-in-picture. The specific date of its arrival, though, is unclear. Mohan said it will be "hopefully in the next few months." 

This is in contrast with the regular YouTube app on iOS, which will turn off background video playback on Feb. 14, a feature only available for YouTube Premium members.

Mohan also said that surround sound support for YouTube TV is possibly increasing in the next six months. And, yes, like many mobile app feature roll outs, Mohan said this will be happening "gradually," which makes it sound like a staggered release where not everyone gets every feature at the same time.

Analysis: YouTube doesn't need to give picture-in-picture to all, but it should

The regular YouTube app on iOS has long required a paid YouTube Premium ($11.99 per month) subscription for listening to all videos in the background as a pop-out. YouTube calls this feature picture-in-picture, or PiP. Even then, this feature has been in testing mode, meaning that the engineers at YouTube have turned it off and on in the past. 

At the moment, YouTube Premium members can only play videos in the background as a pop-out on iOS until Feb. 14. In contrast, this feature has remained a permanent fixture on Android since 2019. Taking something away is truly the best way to celebrate Valentine's Day, isn't it?

And while YouTube may love the revenue stream of YouTube Premium, users likely hate the lack of picture-in-picture. The mobile phone experience is more focused on multi-tasking than ever. Also, YouTube creators probably want their videos to not "drop" members of the audience just because they open a different app.

Unfortunately, making it free would take one of YouTube Premium's key features away (right as the YouTube Originals program died). Still, I'd argue that the monthly fee is more than worth it for the ad-free YouTube experience, plus the ability to save videos for offline.  

This is all probably moot, though. Advertisers, of course, likely require owning as much of the screen as possible for getting users' attention. And this is why YouTube likely keeps it behind the Premium paywall, where advertisers don't get to hawk their wares in the first place.

We're guessing that this feature is more possible on YouTube TV because YouTube TV doesn't control TV channel ads as much as YouTube manages commercials on YouTube videos.

Looking for free things to watch on YouTube? Check out our guide to the best free movies on YouTube.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.