YouTube for Android is getting updated from version 5.1.10 to 5.2.27 and while it might seem like the kind of number upgrade that deserves at least one new feature, the truth is that this is a rather boring update with just bugfixes as stated by the official changelog:
Bug fixes and improvements, notably:
- missing video scrubber bar during fullscreen playback on some devices
- missing action bar (including search) on other devices
On the other hand, the really interesting stuff is hidden inside the APK. As it is usual with Google apps getting updated, Android Police did a teardown to see what's hidden inside the new version of the YouTube app.
The big news is that background audio is finally coming to YouTube. This feature is a long time coming and probably one of the most requested features by users everywhere. The ability to find a video in the app, leave the app either switching to a different one or just turning the screen off and the audio just keeps playing, like a regular music player. That is probably the number one use case scenario, just build a playlist, turn of the screen and voila, you now have a music player. Podcast listeners are probably the other big group who will benefit from this feature.
I tried to think of a reason on why Google didn't do this before, it seems like a fairly simple feature to add but they are doing it just now and my conclusion is this: This feature probably won't please the music labels too much, YouTube is filled with music and if people can listen to it without paying a dime then that's bad for their business. Google probably wanted to wait until all the deals are done with music labels for Google Play Music, both music purchases and All Access. Now that that's done, music labels can't take their music away or they'll be seen as the bad guys by everyone. Google can now play a little with that and enable background audio on YouTube but don't be surprised if you see music videos getting taken down more often than before. I think this feature will make music labels watch what's on YouTube a little closer.
None of this is enabled in the app, it's all hidden code that the folks at Android Police found, there's no UI, no service, no option in the settings menu. Google might be deploying the app with the code so they can later turn on the switch on their servers and everyone gets the feature instantly, no waiting for the update. Google has done this a few times before and it seems to be a better option than to have everyone screaming to find the APK to sideload.
The 5.2.27 YouTube app also has some messages that the app will use for the upcoming offline support feature they already announced but nothing else, it's not in the app yet.
Of course this is a staged rollout so it might take a few days for you to get the update so if you can't wait, we got some download links below. The background audio feature will probably be turn on when Google finishes the rollout, which just might be on Thursday along the Google Play event.