This story is part of. All the latest coverage from Apple’s WWDC annual developers conference.
Apple’sto right now (but ). The operating system upgrade has taken flak for its . That’s certainly the case with Picture in Picture, a video feature we first saw on Samsung phones before coming to Google’s wider Android OS. And the feature isn’t new for Apple, either — it already exists on the iPad — but its iPhone debut is still significant for the hundreds of millions of iPhone users worldwide. Besides, Apple’s take on the video feature has some extra tricks that Google might want to imitate.
Here’s what Picture in Picture is, how it works, how it could surpass PiP on Android phones — and also its limitations.
What is Picture in Picture video for iOS 14?
Picture in Picture lets you watch a thumbnail-size video play in the corner of your screen while you do other things on your phone. The video sticks around as you pop open a chat window, scroll through a news story on your browser or fine-tune your screen settings. So, you can watch a video on the iPhone from any screen.
Picture in Picture is the proper name Apple gave this feature, but it’s generally known in mobile circles as picture-in-picture or PiP.
iPhone apps that will support Picture in Picture in iOS 14
App developers who want to take advantage of PiP will need to use Apple’s Picture in Picture APIs.
How Picture in Picture work on the iPhone
Whichever phone you use it on, picture-in-picture is a great little convenience feature. You don’t go out of your way to use it. It comes to you, and in a way that should be completely natural and helpful.
Here’s what happens on the iPhone. You start watching a video on a compatible app. It occurs to you that you need to reply to a text, check your email or look up the weather. As you swipe up to go Home, your video shrinks down and continues to roll in a thumbnail view. This works with FaceTime calls, too.
The thumbnail is persistent, which means you can switch to any app you want for as long as you want without the video going away. To make the video window larger, pinch to zoom. To move it around, simply drag it with your fingertip.
If the PiP window is getting in the way, you can swipe it off to the side where it docks and all but disappears, leaving you a tab to pull when you want it out again. Here’s the best part: the audio continues to play even if you dock the video thumbnail.
While in Picture in Picture mode, you can pause, go back or go forward on apps that support those controls. And you can tap a control to go full screen or close the video entirely, say if you’re done with a FaceTime call.
What Google and Samsung can learn from Apple
Apple’s Picture in Picture feature could have a leg up on 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 around a PiP window anywhere on the screen that you want. But if you move it to the margins, it’ll bump around like a bowling ball at a child’s birthday party.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve closed a PiP window exasperated that it was always in the way. But you don’t always want to stop the video. The option to keep the audio playing after docking the video sounds extremely useful for FaceTime calls, so you can temporarily make full use of your screen while talking to the other person.
For example, maybe you need to carefully follow walking directions, but you still want them to be able to see your face on video.
Pinch to zoom is the other potential standout with Apple’s Picture in Picture tool. It doesn’t exist for Android. On phones like the ($999 at OnePlus), I could zoom to make it a little larger, and a second zoom attempt opened it to full size. If Apple’s method gives you true scaling (as it appears to do) and works as advertised, that could make other phone brands pay attention.and OnePlus 8 Pro
What iPhone’s Picture in Picture won’t do
Apple’s new feature is advertised to work with video only, compared with PiP on Android, which also works with Google Maps. As someone with a lamentable sense of direction, keeping one eye on walking directions while I’m doing whatever else I’m doing has been a lifesaver more times than I can count. Hopefully Apple will expand in the future to include Apple — and Google — maps within the Picture in Picture realm.