- Apple will no longer include a YouTube app by default in new versions of its mobile operating system
- YouTube has released a new iPhone app which has a new design and can play videos with ads
- While it may temporarily lose users, YouTube gains back control over its apps design and features
The retro, rounded TV icon was one of the first to grace the iPhone's screen when the device was released in 2007. Now, for the first time, new iPhones will no longer include the YouTube app by default. But YouTube has already whipped up a replacement.
On Tuesday, YouTube released its own app for the iPhone. The release comes just one month after Apple publicly confirmed it would no longer include the popular video-site's app on the upcoming version of its mobile operating system, iOS 6.
Being a pre-installed, native app on iPhones and iPads has given YouTube instant access to a fast-growing segment of users -- YouTube gets 1 billion mobile views each day across all platforms, and mobile now makes up 25% of all YouTube views.
But the deal with Apple has not been without its drawbacks. Because the app was built by Apple and baked into the iOS mobile operating system, YouTube had limited control over what it could change and control in the app. Perhaps most importantly, it couldn't show videos with ads because Apple didn't allow it.
This new app gives control back to YouTube, but at a cost. To avoid hemorrhaging iPhone users who upgrade to iOS 6, or who buy a new phone with the new operating system pre-installed, the company must convince iPhone owners to stick with YouTube either by downloading the new app or visiting the mobile version of YouTube.com.
When the news of Apple dropping the YouTube app came out in August, it was seen as the latest sign of strife between Apple and Google, which owns YouTube. In June, Apple announced it would no longer use Google Maps to power the iPhone and iPad's Maps app, and Apple has been taking on makers of Android-powered smartphones in courts around the world over patent disputes. The removal of YouTube was considered the latest attempt by Apple to extricate itself from Google's products and services.
YouTube is playing down the adversarial plot line.
"Apple and us have been working very closely on this one," Andrey Doronichev, YouTube's lead mobile product manager, told CNN. "[This] was the right thing to do from both companies' standpoint. User experience is so much better."
The news wasn't a complete surprise to YouTube -- Doronichev said his team spent "months" working on the app, which means they began before the split became public.
Doronichev gave us a tour of the app, which is available for free in the App Store as of Tuesday. The app can be downloaded on iPhones running iOS 4.3 or later.
Visually, the new interface is vast improvement over the old version, which had begun to look dated after years of minimal updates. The design has been overhauled and now looks much more like the Android YouTube app, with a hidden navigation panel on the left and a number of new discovery and sharing options.
Thanks to the unblocking of videos with ads, the new app has access to "tens of thousands" of videos that weren't available in the old app, such as official music videos.
The search tool has features familiar to users of other Google iOS apps, including auto-suggestions and voice searches. The app is more than just a repackaged take on the mobile site, and has features not possible on that HTML 5 version of YouTube, including overlays that can be used to show close captioned videos.
The most welcome new feature for multi-taskers is in-page playback. You can continuously watch a video in vertical orientation while reading the video description, leaving comments, giving the video a thumbs up or down, and checking out a list of suggested videos. The video even keeps playing when you bring up the navigation menu.
The YouTube team hopes these improvements will push iPhone users to do something they haven't had to do before for YouTube: download the app from Apple's App Store.
The separation with Apple may decrease the number of iPhone users for a time, but it has made a vastly improved YouTube app possible. And because it is now offered through the app store, the company can continue to offer updates and roll out new features at a much faster pace.
The announcement comes just one day before a much-anticipated Apple press conference, at which that company is expected to unveil its latest iPhone.