YouTube must be doing something right. After all, it has more than 100 million unique visitors every month. But we all know it isn’t perfect. That’s why plenty of software developers are releasing apps that — they claim — can make YouTube even better. I took a look at two of them, Desktube and iDesktop.tv, to see how well they work. The results? Not so impressive.
Desktube is an Adobe Air-based application that runs outside of your browser. In fact, one of the best things about Desktube is just how little screen real estate it takes up. Desktube manages to pack most of the YouTube functionality you need (and some extras that YouTube doesn’t offer) into a nice, small screen that doesn’t look crowded.
You can browse through YouTube’s highlighted and most popular videos, search for specific clips, and view your YouTube playlists and subscriptions — all stuff you can do on YouTube.com, sure, but Desktube allows you to do it without launching a browser.
What Desktube really does, though, is add a social-networking feel to YouTube. The most recent version of Desktube, released earlier this month, lets you video chat with up to three friends while you all watch YouTube videos. Honestly, I’m not quite sure that I’d ever feel the need to watch YouTube videos simultaneously with friends while video chatting about them. But, hey, if I ever get the urge, Desktube has me covered.
It also has me covered if I want to update my Facebook status or tweet to all my Twitter followers. But when you send Twitter updates, it feels a little like sending them into a black hole: You type your 140 characters or less, and click submit…only to be met with a blank screen. Desktube doesn’t show you what you posted, nor does it let you follow anyone else.
I’d use Desktube to watch YouTube videos without firing up my browser. But its social-networking features feel like overkill.
iDesktop.tv is a browser-based Web 2.0 application that’s supposed to add the YouTube functionality that “should be there.” The site says it offers a better way to search and watch YouTube videos, while also adding the ability to download videos. So far, I’m mostly unimpressed.
iDesktop.tv sports an interface that is best described as overwhelming; it features lots of little YouTube videos shoved into a tight space. Good luck reading the text on a small screen. (iDesktop.tv does note that the interface works well when viewed on a big-screen TV, which may in fact be the case.) A slider at the bottom of the screen reduces the amount of windows you see and makes the ones that remain bigger; I highly recommend using it if you’re at a computer and not at a TV.
The site also claims to offer faster, more flexible searching. In my tests, the search results it returned were just about identical to those I saw when searching on YouTube.com. iDesktop.tv does let you search within categories right up front, something that YouTube only offers in its Advanced Search tool. But once you get to YouTube’s Advanced Search, you’ll see that it offers plenty of tools that iDesktop.tv does not, including the ability to search by location, language, duration, and more.
iDesktop.tv does have some cool features. One: You can easily resize video windows by dragging the corner, just as you can with most computer apps. This is a nice touch — especially if you’re viewing the site on a big-screen TV. You also can create and save playlists, and share them with friends. And, you can watch multiple videos at once, though why you’d want to do that is something of a mystery to me. (You can’t edit and splice them together, for example.)
You also can download YouTube videos and save them for offline viewing, though this feature violates YouTube’s terms of service (which allows downloading select videos only) and, therefore, could likely be killed at any time. While it lasts, it’s definitely a handy feature. But it’s not enough to make me wade through iDesktop.tv’s other features to get there.