There’s a lot of music — and storytelling and news — on YouTube, and so it stands to reason that you’d want to be able to play it in the background on your mobile device while reading, texting, or doing other things. Unfortunately, unless you’re a subscriber to YouTube Premium ($11.99 a month) or YouTube Music ($9.99 a month), your ability to listen to a YouTube video in the background is limited — doable, but limited.
Android users have it slightly better in this respect. Recent versions of the Android YouTube app allow you to use Picture-in-Picture (PiP) to view (or listen to) almost any YouTube video while you’re reading your tweets or checking out the latest news — that is, any video except one that’s labeled as being music.
We’ll look at a workaround for music videos in Android — and for iPhone users as well (who, as of this writing, don’t have access to the PiP feature). But first, here’s how you enable PiP for YouTube in Android.
1. Open your Settings menu from your notifications pull-down or from your main menu
2. Select “Apps & Notifications”
3. Tap “Advanced” at the bottom of the screen
4. Select “Special app access” > “Picture-in-picture”
5. You are now at the list of apps that support PiP, along with which ones are enabled. Make sure that PiP for YouTube is allowed; if not, tap on YouTube and toggle it on.
Now, when you go into the YouTube app and start playing a video, you can simply press the Home key at the bottom of your screen, and the video will shrink down, allowing you to go to another app while it continues to play. If you tap the center of the video, a small box will appear; tap again, and the video will go to full size. You will also be able to pause it if you want. A small “x” in the upper-right corner will stop the video and banish the box.
There is a very large “but” here, however. As mentioned previously, PiP will not work if you try to play anything classified as a music video. For that, you need to be a subscriber to YouTube Music or YouTube Premium.
There are a couple of workarounds, however. You can play a single track in the background on both an Android phone and an iPhone — but it’s a bit fiddly. And I was unable to play more than a single song in a playlist in either OS. When I tried it on a phone running Android 10, the same song kept repeating, while on an iPhone running iOS 13, the music simply stopped.