With iOS 14 Apple is finally bringing picture-in-picture support to the iPhone. While some apps are slowly including the new feature for all users, YouTube has not. This week YouTube removed picture-in-picture support for its mobile website on iOS 14, a workaround previously used to enable PiP as YouTube’s official app yet has native support for it.
Now it’s been revealed that YouTube enables PiP within its own iOS app for some premium paying users. We ourselves have not been able to get PiP working in the YouTube app even with a premium account, while a few others have. YouTube may be testing the feature with a small batch of premium subscribers before rolling it out to all. With that said, this article was written under the assumption it has yet been adopted for all premium users within the YouTube app.
YouTube Premium gives you access to ad-free videos, original YouTube content, and the ability to play audio outside of the app. However, if YouTube ultimately decides to limit PiP, a built-in iOS feature to only premium users in its official app, as developer Sam Henri Gold points out, it would be in direct violation of clause 3.2.2 in Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines which reads:
(ii) Monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or operating system, such as Push Notifications, the camera, or the gyroscope; or Apple services, such as Apple Music access or iCloud storage.App Store Review Guidelines
But it gets complicated. Apple’s guidelines say that apps can’t monetize built-in capabilities offered by the OS. YouTube does provide premium subscribers PiP capabilities via its official website within a browser, but not in its official app. Its website, unlike its iOS app, is not subject to App Store Review Guidelines, therefore is not in any direct violation. On the flip side, even if the feature is not offered via its official app, the fact that users can subscribe to YouTube Premium via an in-app purchase constitutes that YouTube is in violation of review guidelines, given the purchase was made within the realms of the App Store.
Even if YouTube decides to not offer the feature via its official app and only its website, sidestepping any direct violation of App Store guidelines, Apple should still not accept it. The review guidelines lists push notifications as a built-in feature that cannot be monetized, however, some apps still do. Apollo for Reddit for example requires users to purchase a subscription to enable push notifications. The reason being is that the app cannot offer the feature using Apple’s own services, but instead must use its own independent server/infrastructure, therefore remaining justified.
In YouTube’s case, there is no justification for limiting the feature to premium users only. If the feature is indeed limited within its iOS app then YouTube’s intent is clear and simple; to make money by forcing users to pay in order to use a stock iOS feature, that is in essence, an intangible right for users. Right now, it’s not entirely clear what YouTube has planned and time will only tell.