Picture-in-picture mode was first introduced in Android as a part of Android 8.0 Oreo, and allows for users to keep an eye on one app while simultaneously using another. For instance, when using Google Maps’ directions, switching to another app will shrink Maps down to a small box that floats on top of your other app, allowing you to keep an eye on the road ahead, while still using the other app.
The selection of apps with picture-in-picture functionality has been limited, but you would certainly expect that YouTube would be among some of the apps that would be certain to get it — and to a degree, that’s correct. Users who subscribe to YouTube Red for $10 a month have been permitted to use picture-in-picture mode for some time now as a part of their premium privileges — but it seems that Google is now extending that to selected free users as well.
First noticed by users on Reddit, it seemed that only certain videos would work with the free picture-in-picture mode, with most music videos being unable to be played and accompanied by a message that the content provider had turned off functionality for that video. Eventually, supporting evidence from Google was dug up that clarified that yes, picture-in-picture mode was now available for free YouTube users based in the U.S., who use a device with Android 8.0 Oreo and above. As suspected, picture-in-picture mode for music videos remains a YouTube Red subscription-only privilege.
YouTube Red has currently rolled out to five countries, and comes with ad-free videos, offline viewing, original shows, and other app features available only to YouTube Red subscribers. Red’s rollout to other countries has been slow, and perhaps Google can win back some goodwill by offering up similar features to free users in countries where the option to buy Red is not currently available. At this time there’s no indication of when, or if, this free feature will extend to other countries or to iOS devices. We have reached out to Google to clarify.