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Why iOS 14’s Picture in Picture feature will transform your iPhone experience



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You can collapse and watch videos in a small player window while accessing everything on your phone.

Patrick Holland / CNET

The iPhone’s latest update, iOS 14, includes several useful new functions. Of a new home screen, to custom app icons, to a handful of hidden gems – there are tons of features that you are sure to enjoy.

But there’s another feature that’s sure to impress the first time you use it: Apple has finally added picture-in-picture to the iPhone. That means you can keep watching Netflix or talk to a friend via FaceTime while checking your email or using another app on your phone at the same time.

Apples iPad tablet has been using Picture in Picture – often abbreviated to PiP – for a while, but it’s an important addition to the hundreds of millions of iPhone users worldwide. Here’s what Picture in Picture is, how it works, how it could surpass PiP on Android phones, and some of its limitations.

What is Picture in Picture video for iOS 14?

With Picture in Picture, you can watch a thumbnail video that plays in the corner of your screen while you do other things on your phone. The video hangs while you open a chat window, browse a news story in your browser, or fine-tune your screen settings. So you can watch a video on iPhone from any screen.

Picture in Picture is the correct name that Apple gave this feature, but in mobile circles it is commonly known as picture-in-picture or PiP.

Picture in Picture is incredibly easy to use.

Jason Cipriani / CNET

How Picture in Picture works on iPhone

Whichever phone you use it on, picture-in-picture is a great little useful feature. You don’t do everything you can to use it. It comes to you, and in a way that should be completely natural and useful.

This is what is happening on the iPhone. You start watching a video on a compatible app. Sometimes you have to reply to a text message, check your e-mail or look up the weather forecast. As you swipe up to go home, your video will shrink and keep scrolling in thumbnail view. This also works with FaceTime calls.

The thumbnail is persistent, which means you can switch to any app you want for as long as you want without the video disappearing. You can pinch to zoom in or out on the video, with a total of three different thumbnail sizes available. The different sizes are nice because you can adjust on the fly based on what you’re doing on your phone at the time.

If the PiP window gets in the way, you can swipe it to the side of the screen where it locks and almost disappears, leaving you with a tab to pull when you want it out. This is the best part – the audio will keep playing even if you put the video thumbnail in the dock.

In Picture in Picture mode, you can pause, go back, or advance in apps that support these controls. And you can tap a button to go full screen or close the video altogether, like when you’re done with a FaceTime call.

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Pinch to zoom in or out on the thumbnail to use one of three different sizes.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani / CNET

iPhone apps that support Picture in Picture in iOS 14

Apple has included the ability to use PiP in some of its own apps, such as Apple TV, Podcasts, Safari, FaceTime, iTunes, and your camera feeds in the Home app. Third-party developers can add the new feature to their apps when they update for iOS 14, and many apps already have that. Disney +, Twitch, and Netflix are just a few examples.

The easiest way to see if an app you have installed supports Picture in Picture is to watch a video, expand it to full screen and after a few seconds press the home button or move up from the bottom of the screen to close the app.

If PiP is supported, you will see the video magically resize to a small thumbnail and keep playing.

The YouTube app supports picture in picture, but there’s a catch: you must be a YouTube Premium subscriber to use it. There used to be a workaround, but it seems Google is trying to restrict its use. However, you can try.

Watch a YouTube video on the website in Safari, instead of the YouTube app, and set the video to full screen. After letting the video play for a few seconds, go back to your home screen and the video should show up in PiP mode. This trick has worked for me on occasion. More recently, the video disappears after a few seconds of activating PiP mode. Your results may vary.

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You don’t have to let PiP start automatically.

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani / CNET

Don’t want Picture in Picture to start automatically?

You can change a setting on your iPhone to prevent videos from automatically playing in PiP mode when you exit the app.

Open the Settings app on your iPhone, then go to General > Picture in picture and slide the switch to from position. If auto picture in picture is turned off, you need to tap the PiP icon to force picture in picture mode when a video is playing.

To do that, tap your screen while a video is playing to display the playback controls. Then tap the button with a small rectangle with an arrow pointing to a smaller rectangle.

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Picture in picture mode on Android devices can learn a thing or two from Apple.

Angela Lang / CNET

What Google and Samsung can learn from Apple

Apple’s Picture in Picture feature can be ahead of Android PiP in two ways. I felt my eyes light up when Apple demonstrated the docking feature in iOS 14. On Android phones, you can drag through a PiP window anywhere on the screen. But if you move it to the ballpark, it will bounce around like a bowling ball at a kid’s birthday party.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve closed a PiP window, annoyed that it was always in the way. But you don’t always want to stop the video. The option to play the audio after the video is linked sounds extremely useful for FaceTime calls, allowing you to temporarily take full advantage of your screen while talking to the other person.

For example, you may need to follow the walking directions carefully, but still want them to be able to see your face on video.

Pinch to zoom is the other potential highlight with Apple’s Picture in Picture tool. It doesn’t exist for Android. On phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 and OnePlus 8 Pro ($ 999 at OnePlus), I was able to zoom to make it a bit bigger, and a second zoom attempt opened it up full size. Apple’s method gives you real scaling up, and hopefully other phone brands will pay attention.


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What iPhone’s Picture in Picture Won’t Do

Apple’s new feature is advertised to work with video only, compared to PiP on Android, which also works with Google Maps. For people with a deplorable sense of direction, it can be a tremendous convenience to keep an eye on the walking direction while doing something else. Hopefully, in the future, Apple will expand to include Apple and Google cards in the Picture in Picture realm.

Now that you’ve mastered Picture in Picture, you can do the rest of our iOS 14 tips and tricks. Includes new privacy features, and a fun new selfie trick that you will love.


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