UX Study: YouTube App (Android)

Digital Wellbeing is such a feature (app) from Android. It lives an expectation of bringing balance to our life whether while using smartphone/tablet or not. One basic capability that is really useful, it can track how long we spend time with the device throughout a day, also known as screen time. And specifically, it also tracks how long we use apps on the device. 

Digital Wellbeing dashboard

I came from this dashboard, thinking that I want to improve apps that I mostly use in terms of their User Experience (UX). I took samples from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to represent how different it is when it might be used on weekdays and weekends. Also if we take a look at the screen time, it varied significantly compared to the other days. 

For now I want to focus on the top three apps: Chrome, YouTube and Instagram. For Instagram, I want to do it last as I don’t use it personally. Mainly, I only use it for my business with some of my friends. Looking at Chrome, I really use it a lot but the screen time only represented how long I was reading articles or news. So I’ve come to a conclusion, let’s start from YouTube!

The app used in this study is the Android version, latest version on July 19th 2020, or to be more precise is version 15.28.56. Here I’m focussing only on Android as I came from Digital Wellbeing. And when doing this study, I have no iOS device on hands. 

Play Store review filter

For this study, the data was collected from the Play Store review section. By default, Play Store sorts reviews by the most relevant, and for this study I also went this route. Then only showed them from the latest version.

Samples collected from review section (1)
Samples collected from review section (2)

I only collected samples focusing on UX and not looking at reviews that could change the (core) functionality of the app. Let’s say, there was a review asking YouTube to start showing the latest news. It’s an extreme example, but you get the idea. Five samples collected for this study. It was based on a great study by Jacob Nielsen, more detailed on this link. Samples were collected by Play Store sorting mechanism as stated before.

So from the samples gathered, it can be categorised like these:

  • Recommended videos (home). Pain points:
    • Autoplay is always active.
    • No option to disable (previously there is an option)
  • Ads. Pain points:
    • Too many ads.
    • No option to mark irrelevant, inappropriate, etc.

There are some points worth mentioning but not something that should be improved or to be more precise, changed. Here are some of the skipped points: 

4:3 video
Zoomed 4:3 video
  • Video Resizing
    • Dynamic video resizing: It is not something that is forced. Users can pinch to zoom or turn on/off the default behaviour from setting.
    • 4:3 aspect ratio stretched: There is a chance this user watched a stretched video already or just think that he/she watched a stretched one. As it was fine that whether in default or zoomed condition, the video was not stretched.
  • Big ads (Almost full screen).
    • It’s a different way to show ads on a different device. This kind of type won’t work on the desktop version because it’s gonna be awkward showing a portrait one. 
  • Some ads can’t be skipped.
    • It also happens on any version of YouTube. It’s a type of short ads, so no point in skipping like in longer video ads.
  • Unnecessary animation.
    • It couldn’t be verified which kinds of animations were mentioned.
  • Some comments are not visible.
    • Comments with big counts of reply and like (also date involved), will be ranked higher when it is sorted by top comments. So it has a chance we can’t see some comments as it has low rank.
    • Another thing to consider, there is always a chance a comment is marked as spam.
Video preview setting on Google app

Let’s start with the autoplay video on home. We’ll be able to tackle this problem as simple as adding an option to turn on/off the autoplay. Actually Google app has a good implementation of this kind of setting. So it’s weird to know the YouTube app doesn’t have (or removed) this feature. 

Autoplay setting in Youtube app

The solution will be added on autoplay submenu from settings which can be accessed through “Settings” > “Autoplay”. There is just one option present. New option to control autoplay videos on home will be added below this one. 

Moving to the ads department. Many users stated that the ads were just too many, even with hyperbole sentences. The simplest solution for this is to use YouTube Premium. But that’s not going to play nicely for everyone. For now let’s dive in a little to know how ads on YouTube works:

  • Standard ad at the start (and the end) of the video.
  • Ad breaks are available only on long video (10 min+), can be set automatically or manually.
  • Sensitive ads can be turned off by the uploader.
  • In general ads were shown based on websites we’ve visited, activities while signed in to Google, and the age that was added to the account. Ads based on all of these criteria can be “configured” by going to our ad settings on our Google account. For this point, it is stated clearly on the app.
  • Ad that is in the video; actually part of the video. This is some kind of direct partnership between a creator and a brand.

The solution I suggest is to set the maximum two ads for ad breaks in 10 minutes, whether placed manually by the uploader or when the uploader sets it to automatic. Let’s say for an example, there was a 22 minutes video that had ad breaks enabled. Then this video should have 4 maximum ad breaks.

Pop up when (i) button clicked (YouTube desktop)
Pop up after “Stop seeing this ad” clicked (YouTube desktop)

For an option to mark an ad, the desktop version of YouTube has this option. So this is another weirdness implemented by the YouTube app. The solution is to add a flat button to “Stop seeing this ad” then give options to tell what to report: inappropriate, irrelevant and repetitive. 

Solution 1: Autoplay (lis)
Solution 1: Pop up of this autoplay
Solution 2: Add flat button to “Stop seeing this ad” (1)
Solution 2: Add flat button to “Stop seeing this ad” (2)

This study is possible as I want to improve mostly used apps by personal usage in terms of its usage. It turned out, we got quite simple solutions for problems that sampled from Play Store reviews. As weird as it is, Google app and desktop version of YouTube already implemented the solutions. Hopefully Google/YouTube can hear more from its users to improve their apps.


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