On a desktop computer you can start playing YouTube videos and then leave them playing in the background while you bring other browser tabs or other applications to the front. This is really handy if you want to listen to music, or how-to advice while you bring up schematics or other visual aids and information sources. You’ve probably taken advantage of this feature on a PC dozens of times without consciously realizing. But you’ll appreciate the background playback ability much more if you’ve ever tried to do the same thing on your Android or iOS mobile device.
The YouTube app available on iOS and Android will automatically pause video playback as soon as you minimize your browser, switch apps, switch tabs, or if your phone screen switches off after timing out. Clearly, if you want to use YouTube to stream music, this is frustrating. Luckily, there are a few ways you can get around this pitfall.
If you live in the US and want to give YouTube all your money (ok, some of your money), then you can subscribe to the premium YouTube Red service. YouTube Red has added features, one of which is being able to enable background playback. A few mobile apps made by third parties will let you do the same thing. These types of apps come and go, so it’s difficult to keep an up-to-date list of them, but at the time of writing, YouPlayer and Awesome Pop-up Video both work. A third option called Audiopocket works by converting the audio of YouTube clips to mp3s for you to listen to.
But if you’d rather find a simple way to enable video playback in background mode without buying a subscription or going through a separate app, keep reading to find out how to do it just using your browser and device settings. With just a few clicks each time, it’s easy to keep streaming YouTube in the background:
For iOS (on your iPad and iPhone):
- Open Chrome or Safari on your iPad or iPhone and navigate to the YouTube website
- Your browser will pop up a window asking if you’d prefer to open your video in the YouTube app. Select continue in browser
- Search for the video or playlist that you want to start playing, and start playing it
- Press your device’s home button, returning you to your home screen. The video will pause
- Swipe up from your screen’s base. This should bring up the control center. You’ll see the video’s name, how far you are through the track length, and a play button
- Tap this button. The selected video should resume playing in the background. You can now open whichever app you like or let your screen lock, and your music etc. will continue to play
- If you want to pause, restart, or skip videos, you can do that easily by swiping the control center open at any time
For Android (on your Android mobile phone)
- Open Chrome or Mozilla Firefox on your phone and navigate to YouTube
- (You may need to download one of these through the app store if you haven’t already)
- Your browser will generate a pop-up window asking if you’d prefer to open the video in the mobile YouTube app. Select continue in browser
- Search for the video or playlist that you want to start playing, and start playing it in small screen
- Bring up your browser settings by tapping either the three lines button at the bottom left corner of your phone, or the symbol of three dots to the right of the top of the YouTube window
- Scroll towards the bottom the pop-up list and select request desktop version
- The page should then reload to the desktop version of the YouTube page you were on. You may need to search for the video you wanted to play again, but switching to the desktop version shouldn’t bump you back to your home page
- Press play on your selected video again
- You can now switch browser tabs, open other apps, or lock your device’s screen and the video will continue playing
- If you want to pause, restart or skip videos on your Android device, you’ll need to navigate back to where you’ve got YouTube open, since Android doesn’t have an equivalent of the control center.
Finally, we’ll give you one more option which requires a little more effort and time, but which also comes with a definite added bonus. Did you know that when streaming YouTube videos for the audio alone, you’re still using up bandwidth to stream video the whole time? Even if what you see while playing the video is just a static image, a single photograph, or even a blank screen, the bandwidth cost of playing that video is the same. So if you have restrictions on your download limit, you’ll be glad to know that there’s an app which not only ports content from YouTube making it easier to play in the background, but one that actually extracts only the audio content. Since you’ve come to this article to find out how to play videos in the background, we assume there are plenty of times where you only want the audio anyway.
The FireTube app lets you listen to all the YouTube videos you want. Whether you choose to stay in the app itself, play YouTube in your background or when your screen is locked – this app lets you fully search for any video, and control it with a great range of features. As well as saving your download traffic by only playing the audio element of each video, you have full control over audio quality. All you need to do is install FireTube.
- Since you can’t download FireTube via the Google Play store, you’ll need to use Amazon Underground instead. Search for Amazon Underground in your browser.
- Follow download instructions. You’ll be asked to change your security settings – this is OK, just make sure you disable them on a once-off basis, not permanently.
- Once you’ve got Underground working, type FireTube into the search bar.
- Click download and install.
- Once you’ve installed the app, just open it, search for any YouTube video, and select it. The FireTube player will start playing audio automatically.
- You can then browse to other apps or switch your screen off.
App features include:
- Playlist support
- Sleep timer
- Queue support
- Choose normal or HD audio quality
- Sync with Firefox app
- Shuffle, repeat plus some controls work through your Android notification menu
There must be a reason that the YouTube app developers have created this restriction, or allowed it to continue without fixing it. It may be that background streaming interferes with their advertising and data collection (which would explain why they allow background streaming in the paid YouTube Red subscription). It may just be a case of reserving attractive features to make the premium version more attractive. This restriction certainly means that in principle, you’re much less likely to accidentally start streaming black metal at full volume in the library, but it comes at the cost of being able to easily stream black metal at full volume while making cupcakes (assuming you use your phone to read recipes).