There’s a lot of music, storytelling, and news on YouTube, so it stands to reason that you want to play it in the background on your mobile device while reading, texting, or doing other things. Unfortunately, unless you’re subscribed to YouTube Premium ($ 11.99 a month) or YouTube Music ($ 9.99 a month), your ability to listen to a YouTube video in the background is limited, doable, but limited.
Android users have it a little better in this regard. Recent versions of the YouTube Android app allow you to use Picture-in-Picture (PiP) to view (or listen to) almost any YouTube video while reading your tweets or watching the latest news, i.e. any video except one that is labeled as music.
We will discuss an alternative solution for music videos on Android, and also for iPhone users (who, at the time of writing this article, do not have access to the PiP feature). But first, this is how you enable PiP for YouTube on Android.
Open the Settings menu from the notifications drop-down menu or from the main menu.
- Select “Applications and notifications”
- Tap “Advanced” at the bottom of the screen
- Select “Special application access”> “Picture in picture”
- You are now on the list of apps that support PiP, along with those that are enabled. Make sure that PiP for YouTube is allowed; if not, tap YouTube and activate it.
Now when you enter the YouTube app and start playing a video, just press the Home key at the bottom of the screen, and the video will be reduced, allowing you to go to another app while it continues to play. If you touch the center of the video, a small box will appear; tap again and the video will go full size. You can also pause it if you want. A small “x” in the upper right corner will stop the video and banish the frame.
However, here is a very big “but”. As mentioned above, PiP will not work if you try to play something classified as a music video. For that, you must subscribe to YouTube Music or YouTube Premium.
However, there are a couple of alternative solutions. You can play a single track in the background on both an Android phone and an iPhone, but it’s a bit tricky. And I couldn’t play more than one song in a playlist on any of the operating systems. When I tried it on an Android 10 phone, the same song was repeated, while on an iOS 13 iPhone, the music just stopped.
However, if you want to try it, here we show you how to play music in the background of your mobile device.
On an Android Phone
This method, which I first saw in Digital Trends, works in Chrome and can also work in other mobile browsers.
While in Chrome, go to the YouTube website. (This must be done with a mobile browser, so make sure you are on the website and not in the YouTube app.)
- Find the video you want to play
- Tap the three dots in the upper right corner of the screen and then select “Desktop Site” from the dropdown menu
- Now you will use the desktop version of YouTube. Start the video again.
- Touch the Home key at the bottom of your screen. As soon as you see your home screen, the music can stop. But wait…
- Dropdown your notifications from the top of the screen. You should see the notification for the current song; just press play to restart it.
On an iPhone
Playing a free YouTube video — any video — on an iPhone is even more tricky, especially because some methods that previously worked were hammered by iOS 13. I finally found a method that actually works (most of the time, anyway) in a video produced by Daniel About Tech.
- Find your video in Safari. (You’ll probably be using the mobile version of YouTube.)
- Tap on the “AA” symbol in the top-left corner of the screen
- In the drop-down menu, tap on “Request Desktop Website”
- In the desktop version of YouTube, start the video and then sweep up to close the Safari app
- The video will probably stop playing. Pull down the Control Center from the top right of the screen. You’ll see the video loaded there; press the play button and the video should start playing again.
I had no trouble playing a single video in the background using this method. If it doesn’t work for you at first, then, according to Daniel, if you go back into Safari and restart the video, it should play. But while I was able to play a single video in background, as in the Android workaround, I was unable to play more than a single track.