The research supporting the benefits of multitasking is a little scarce. Humans can’t give their full attention to two tasks at the same time, but there are still scenarios when switching between two simultaneous tasks can be beneficial. After all, this is the reason why picture-in-picture (PiP) was invented. People would watch one show while waiting for the other to start or switch channels between commercial breaks. The technology still exists today. Here’s how it works on YouTube, and some reasons why you might want to try it.
Requirements for Picture-in-Picture
Unfortunately, YouTube’s picture-in-picture mode doesn’t work on all browsers, and even then, it is hidden from plain sight. It works in Chrome for Mac or PC, Safari for Mac, and in Safari for iPad. There is currently no native support for Firefox, Edge, or Safari on iPhones, but that could change in the future, so stay tuned.
Picture-in-Picture: Safari for iPad
I first learned about YouTube’s picture-in-picture mode for the iPad from C. Wilson (@edtechwilson) on Twitter. It’s not hard to do, but there are a few qualifications and you need to make sure you are using the Safari web browser.
- Navigate to YouTube.com
- Find a video you want to use as picture-in-picture
- Tap the full screen button in the bottom right-hand corner of the video
- Tap the PiP button in the top left-hand corner to activate picture-in-picture
Once you are in picture-in-picture mode, you can go back to the home screen or even open another app, so long as you don’t close the YouTube tab in Safari. The video will remain in the bottom right-hand corner while you navigate elsewhere on your iPad, but if it works better in a different corner, you can drag and drop it into a new position.
Videos can be paused, closed, or restored to the tab they started in by using the controls on the video thumbnail. You can hide your video by swiping it off the screen, and restore it by dragging it back with the arrow that marks where the video used to be. PiP videos can also be resized by pinching with two fingers.
Picture-in-Picture: Safari for Mac
After I found out about PiP on the iPad, I did some digging to see where else it might work. I came across this 2016 article on 9to5Mac. Take a look at the video below to see how picture-in-picture works in Safari on the Mac.
Picture-in-Picture: Chrome for Mac & PC
As you probably know, YouTube is owned by Google, so you won’t be surprised to hear that Chrome also supports picture-in-picture. Essentially, it works the same way as Safari. Simply right-click on the video, then right-click on it again, and you will see an option to activate picture-in-picture.
When to Use YouTube’s Picture-in-Picture
Picture-in-Picture already exists on sites that use custom video players. If you start watching the video on sites like Engadget and then scroll down, the video will follow you down the page. If you don’t like this behavior you can always dismiss the video or scroll back up, but sometimes it can be useful for checking out other media on the page like charts and images while the video plays in the background.
On YouTube, I rarely find the video I need the first time. I am getting better at recognizing creators, checking the release date, and looking for view numbers, but those stats only tell part of the story. So, I’ve started using PiP to begin watching one video while I scroll down to the results page to find alternatives I can try if my first choice doesn’t meet my needs.
Desktop users can use things like VideoNot.es to take notes on a YouTube video, but if you want to use your iPad, or you don’t want to save your notes in Google Drive, you can use PiP instead. Or maybe you like to sketchnote. PiP can let you use your favorite drawing app while watching a video.
To take this idea further, not all videos require your full attention. Sometimes you might be waiting for a specific piece of information from a webinar or long-form video. Skipping through these types of videos is a little fruitless if you don’t know the exact time that the information you need is going to be discussed, so you can use PiP video to keep an eye (or ear) out for the important parts while you catch up on email or check Twitter.
Finally, some people find it is useful to be watch a YouTube tutorial and try out the techniques that are demonstrated at the same time. You can mostly do this already if you resize your browser window, or use Split View on an iPad, but PiP makes it easier because it is only a couple of taps away.