YouTube and Web Apps on iOS

Earlier this month, Google released a new version of the YouTube mobile site. (Blog post and video)

First a screen shot of something that amused me with the YouTube web app.

YouTube web app shown in Reeder’s build in browser with a message bubble pointing at a gap in the toolbar. It expects to be opened in Safari where the arrow would point at the plus button in the toolbar.

I am not really valid to comment on how the app compares to the built in Apple-made YouTube iOS app since I don’t use use YouTube interactively. I just watch videos that are linked to from other sources.

I want to discuss bookmarks, web apps and the iOS home screen.

Icons on the iOS home screen represent apps. I love adding web apps to the home screen: those that declare they are apple-mobile-web-app-capable and so hide the Safari top and bottom bars. This makes the application appear on its own, like native iOS apps. (Apple’s Safari Web Content Guide) This is very cool as these can really feel like apps. It is a shame there aren’t enough great apps done this way.

On the other hand, normal web pages can also be added to the home screen, together with web apps that do not declare apple-mobile-web-app-capable. When these icons are tapped, a new page is opened in Safari. This behaviour is unique and I don’t like it at all. The home screen ceases to be a place just for apps.

If I was in charge, I would allow only web pages that declare themselves as applications to be added to the home screen. The option would be removed from the list on Safari’s plus button for regular web pages. Also, Safari’s plus button would glow on pages that declare their capability to be apps. This advertises the capability of the web app without the developer needing to add their own arrow pop up (as shown failing in the screen shot above).

There is a problem. Google does not declare their web apps’ status using apple-mobile-web-app-capable. I presume they see the web browser is the platform they are targeting. This aligns with Google's ideals, but doesn't work very well on iOS. This means that adding Google’s YouTube app to the home screen gives the new-page-in-Safari experience I dislike so much.

What is worse, the iPhone registers the URL of the current video rather than the home page. That is the way the system works, but it was inappropriate to show the ‘please add me to your home screen’ message on a page that was not the home page. This is probably a bug so I can’t hold it against Google.

I shall summarise: