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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

This mundane iOS feature is getting me into YouTube

November 19, 2020

Working in sports and social media is weird. The amazing and mystifying things you see on your favorite teams’ feeds aren’t always a result of someone’s brilliance or creativity—sometimes it’s another team trying something and someone in the building being like “Hey, why don’t we try that?”

All the while, you’re not quite sure if it’s smart and impactful or just something that looked cool and we’re all just following one another hoping for the best.

That was where I was on YouTube and teams following the Cubs’ lead on producing a ton of content for the platform. About this time last year, I was at the MLB Marketing Meetings in Portland listening to how the Cubbies produced outstanding documentaries on Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game, their progressive scouting efforts and players’ off seasons. (Hint: they threw a ton of resources at the endeavor.)

It made me feel real old and super ADD but I remember thinking “People are really watching this longform stuff? On their computer, with other stuff going on? Definitely not on their phone, right? Tablet or something? Like, I guess?”

I knew basically any smart TV or TV-connected device had a YouTube app, but they were all so clunky. I barely used the one on my XBox.

Even if you paired it using a URL and a code, it never stuck. Using the XBox interface to navigate to my ‘Watch Later’ or, god forbid, type something in, was a nightmare. If I really wanted to watch something I would—but otherwise, nah.

Enter the incredibly sexy-titled “Discover devices on your local network” feature on iOS.

I’ll be honest, it may actually not even be new to iOS 14–but it for sure works better than it did before, at least with my XBox, and is also more visible.

Recently, if you’re on an iPhone, you’ve probably seen a prompt like this:


And if you hit ‘OK’—this permission-granting is new and for many apps, there’s no reason to give it—you’ll empower the app on your phone or tablet to control the same app on other devices on your WiFi.

Like, using my iPad to control YouTube on my XBox and, by proxy, a big TV that’s on while I do whatever else on my phone or iPad or computer.


And when I do this, it just works. Even if I’m over in HBO Max or Call of Duty, it pulls up the YouTube app and the video I want to play—just as easy as normal TV, and maybe even easier.

For a long time, I’ve been wanting something like this, where if I have something open on one device I can throw it up on another, regardless of operating system or hardware or browser or whatever. I thought—we have to have some kind of universal language for this.

And while this isn’t perfect, WiFi x apps is getting close.

The exponential improvement when stuff just works

In working on product stuff—or even non-product stuff—when someone tries to push an idea forward, to refine it just-so, it’s hard to justify.

“You can already open videos from your phone,” I can imagine someone saying.

“Yeah, but it’s just kinda clunky” a dude might respond, knowing they sound like an idiot, in describing software to the genius engineer who built it.

Whenever this type of thing comes up, I’m reminded of a scene from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, from the process of designing the iPad. Jobs, being the perfectionist asshole he tended to be, insisted the iPad’s back be rounded—not flat like the prototype he was initially presented.

If it was flat, you’d need two hands to pick it up, making it feel like a delicate and hefty piece of hardware. If it was curved, and could be picked up with one hand, it felt like a more casual accessory and created a more intimate relationship with its user.

It’s getting that usability relationship just right that can blow apart bottlenecks and improve or increase use exponentially.

I’m not going to watch long YouTube videos on a device where, as soon as my attention strays, I bounce over to Twitter or Instagram. And I’m not going to go out of my way to pull something specific up when I have to do just that—go out of my way.

But when I can think “Hey, you know what, I really do need to watch that Kyle Lewis documentary my former colleagues produced,” I can pull it up in a half-second and dive into the drama-rich early career of, not even a full season in, one of my favorite Mariners of all time.

You never know when that one extra step, that one little refinement, changes everything.

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