YouTube Hopes Its Makeover Will Entice You Away From TikTok

A photo of the YouTube logo on an Android home screen

Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

YouTube is getting a slight makeover to keep you engaged on the video platform. The new look includes improved playback options, a better mechanism for scrubbing through video, and the ability to pinch and zoom. The update is rolling out today to iOS and Android devices, with some features also coming to the web player.

Let’s start with YouTube’s new pinch-to-zoom feature for mobile, which works just like it would if you were in Google Photos or another gallery app. Simply pinch the video screen to start zooming in. The ability was initially rolled out over the summer for YouTube Premium subscribers. But it’s still taking time to get to me. I’ve been unable to sample the feature even after sideloading a recent YouTube APK on an Android device. TikTok, considered YouTube’s current major rival, already has a pinch-to-zoom feature that you can use to pause the video and read text or take a closer look at faces in the background.

A screenshot of the pinch to zoom feature on YouTube

The pinch-to-zoom feature will be available on Android and iOS.
screenshot: Google

Scrubbing through a YouTube video is work. You often don’t know where the marker will stop or if it will bring up the scene you were hoping to see—even with chapter indicators, it’s long been a chore to try to move through the timeline of a video. YouTube’s “precise seeking” ability will hopefully solve this woe. On both desktop and mobile devices, you can drag the cursor on the timeline to preview thumbnails in the video player and stop in the right spot.

If you are a frequent viewer of YouTube content, you’ll like the new playback options added through this update. YouTube’s new “ambient mode” uses dynamic color sampling to adjust the background color as per the toning on the video—think of it like how your smart bulbs might attempt to set the lights so that you have a distraction-free-yet-enhanced viewing experience at home. This feature is available with the dark theme on YouTube mobile and desktop.

YouTube made a few other minor improvements across the board. Links in the video descriptions will now appear as buttons, so they’re easy to spot and tap. The fabled “subscribe” button has also been enhanced with higher contrast, so it catches your eye. Frankly, before this update, that button felt hidden among the video description.

YouTube’s latest design tweaks will hopefully make the app more palatable in a TikTok-obsessed world. Since last year, TikTok has been eating YouTube’s lunch as it beat the app in overall watch time. And why wouldn’t it? TikTok was made for the smartphone first, and it’s a much more fluid experience. It’s a little easier to dip in and out of TikTok than on YouTube, even as the platform has started offering bite-sized videos through YouTube Shorts.

The new YouTube enhancements are rolling out today. Hang tight if you don’t see them on your browser, iPhone, or Android device. Based on how its parent company, Google, typically does software rollouts, the features should be available by the end of the week.

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