UPDATED No big surprise here: YouTube wants to help parent Google’s (s GOOG) ambitions to lead the mobile handset space, and to do so, it has introduced the latest version of its Android mobile app. But the release comes after YouTube already put a lot of effort into building a mobile web experience that can be used across all devices with HTML5-compliant browsers.
Back in July, when the new YouTube mobile website was first released, Mobile Product Manager Andrey Doronichev called the it “by far the most full-featured YouTube mobile implementation out there.” But now it appears that YouTube is intent on making its Android app the fullest-featured way to view its videos on mobile handsets.
The app has a few major new functions, including in-page video playback — in case, you know, you want to read the description, rate the video, browse related videos or even post a comment while the video plays. It also incorporates users’ video subscriptions into the app, and has a new, full-screen user interface.
The introduction of the new YouTube app follows Google’s recent strategy of decoupling its Android app releases from the launch of new versions of the mobile operating system. Doronichev writes in the Google Mobile blog post, “Today the latest YouTube app, version 2.1, is available on the Android Market, so YouTube app updates aren’t tied to Android OS releases anymore.”
The new app won’t be available to all Android users, however; only those with Android 2.2 and up are supported and it will be pre-installed on the new Samsung Nexus S, which launches this month with Android 2.3. Android 2.2, also called Froyo, has the largest market share among active versions of the mobile OS: according to the Android developers website, those phones account for 43 percent of all active Android devices. That means the majority of Android users on phones running older versions of the OS won’t be able to use the new features unless their carrier or handset maker decides to offer an upgrade to Froyo.
One advantage for YouTube’s Android app is flexibility in monetizing videos, something it doesn’t really have with the native iPhone (s AAPL) app (built by Apple). That was another reason for YouTube’s push behind its HTML5-friendly mobile website and one reason that it suggests viewers watch in the iPhone’s Safari browser rather than through the native app.
The release of the new Android app, however, seems counterintuitive to Google’s overall web app strategy. It has put a good deal of effort into making mobile web apps accessible across a wide variety of devices. But the new YouTube app seems solely focused on providing a better native app experience than is available on the iPhone (s AAPL) or other, non-Android devices.
Update: A YouTube spokesperson issued the following statement about its plans for the Android mobile app:
“We’ve consistently communicated in the past that we’ll use Android native app as an experimental playground. We try out new experimental features on the platform we can control, and then work with mobile browser manufactures to deliver similar experience across mobile platforms using open web standards (HTML5). Furthermore, the Android app and the mobile site offer different benefits. While the mobile site allows us to incorporate site changes quickly after they roll out to the desktop site, we have the advantage of working closely with the mobile platform, which allows us to use the Android app as our testing ground for new features and innovations. For example, with this latest version we’re experimenting with in-page playback, look and feel and gestures that we hope to incorporate into the mobile web site in the future. Our goal is to give you a consistent YouTube experience across all devices.”
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