You are watching or rather listening to a music video on YouTube but are distracted by an email notification. You switch to the Gmail app to check your mail and, as expected, the YouTube video stops playing. You have to switch to the YouTube app again on your Android device to resume playback.
This is a limitation of the YouTube app on Android. It automatically stops video playback as soon as you move it to the background. The same is true for the YouTube mobile website as well. The videos will play as long as the web browser – be it Chrome or some other browser – is in focus. Switch to a different app and the video will pause itself.
The YouTube app for iPhone and iPad too impose a similar restriction but you can easily get around that limitation by playing YouTube videos inside the Safari browser (see: Play YouTube in the background on iOS).
Play Youtube in the Background on Android
The iOS trick however won’t work on Android but there exist even simple workarounds in the form of apps. The Google Play store has several apps that support background playback thus letting you use YouTube as a music player. I did try them all and here are my favorites:
The uListen app has a simple interface and minimal features which is what I like most about this app. Just use the search button to find videos and playlists on YouTube and hit the play button. You can also tap and hold a search result to favorite it or to add it to your playlist. uListen doesn’t link to your YouTube account and all your playlists and favorites are saved locally.
Then there are apps like SuperTube and Viral that more like clones of the official YouTube app except that they also let you watch or play YouTube videos while in the background. You can create local playlists or connect these apps to your main YouTube account and access your playlists, watch later queue and favorites. Another handy feature is that you can do a vertical swipe on the video to increase or decrease the volume.
Both Viral and SuperTube offer a floating video player which essentially means that you can pull out a YouTube video and place it over any other app. It’s like the Picture-In-Picture effect – you can read the New York Times in the browser and watch a movie on YouTube simultaneously. I prefer SuperTube more since it lets you choose a different video in the queue from the floating player itself.
A major downside of the previously mentioned uListen app is that it doesn’t offer autocomplete mode so you have to the type the entire search terms manually for relevant results. YT Player, another free YouTube audio player, fixes that problem. It pulls in search suggestions from YouTube and you can search for videos, playlists or even channels. If you prefer apps with slightly bigger fonts, you will probably like this one even more.
Update (May 9, 2015) – Google has removed most of these YouTube background player apps from the Google Play store but there’s still one left – Popup Video – that continues to work. It will however only play the initial 5 minutes of the video and you’ll to go for an in-app purchase for watching the full video.