Microsoft vs. Google: Closer look at Windows Phone’s ‘subpar’ YouTube experience

Casual users of YouTube on Windows Phone probably won’t notice a big difference from the YouTube app on iPhone. They can download YouTube from the Windows Phone store, log in to YouTube and open a sidebar to access their favorite videos, viewing history, uploads, suggestions and many other features.

The biggest tip-off is the address bar at the bottom. This isn’t a native Windows Phone app. It’s the YouTube mobile website, presented as an “app” but actually displayed in a browser on Windows Phone.

Microsoft insists that the experience needs to be better to be on par with YouTube on iPhone and Android. The Redmond company says it’s ready to release a native YouTube app for Windows Phone … if only YouTube’s owner, Google, would provide equal access to the underlying metadata needed to give the app full functionality.

With regulators in the U.S. and Europe scrutinizing Google’s business practices, Microsoft is pointing to the YouTube situation on Windows Phone as one example of anti-competitive behavior by Google.

[Follow-up: FTC closes Google investigation, says search giant will change business practices]

In a blog post this week, Microsoft deputy general counsel Dave Heiner says Microsoft has “learned from YouTube that senior executives at Google told them not to enable a first-class YouTube experience on Windows Phones.”

“Google often says that the antitrust offenses with which it has been charged cause no harm to consumers. Google is wrong about that.” writes Heiner in the post. “In this instance, for example, Google’s refusal deprives consumers who use competing platforms of a comparable experience in accessing content that is generally available on the Web, almost all of which is created by users rather than by Google itself.”

Heiner cites a past Microsoft post that noted, “Google has enabled its own Android phones to access YouTube so that users can search for video categories, find favorites, see ratings, and so forth in the rich user interfaces offered by those phones. It’s done the same thing for the iPhones offered by Apple, which doesn’t offer a competing search service.”

It’s an interesting argument, but apart from the principle of equal access, Microsoft’s YouTube example is undermined by the fact that the YouTube experience on Windows Phone actually isn’t as bad as Microsoft suggests.

I’ve been spending time with the iPhone app and the Windows Phone “app” this morning, and the YouTube experience across the platforms is very similar.

Yes, there are some subtle performance differences, and the YouTube mobile site on Windows Phone may feel a little more sluggish at times. Obviously there are technological differences under the hood. But in terms of the basic functionality, apparent to the end user, it was tough to tell the difference.

In a statement responding to Microsoft’s post, YouTube says this …

“Contrary to Microsoft’s claims, it’s easy for consumers to view YouTube videos on Windows phones. Windows Phone users can access all the features of YouTube through our HTML5-based mobile website, including viewing high-quality video streams, finding favorite videos, seeing video ratings, and searching for video categories. In fact, we’ve worked with Microsoft for several years to help build a great YouTube experience on Windows phones.”

If Microsoft were to release its own YouTube app for Windows Phone, with equal access to Google’s underlying YouTube data, it certainly could look and feel a lot more like a native Windows Phone app.

But for a clear and indisputable case of Google’s behavior truly making things worse for end users, Microsoft probably needs to focus on something else.

  • http://twitter.com/robdaemon Rob Roland

    MetroTube for Windows Phone. It’s $0.99, but it’s a much better YouTube experience than the mobile website.

  • Guest

    Shame on Google. YouTube is the new television. I don’t need a Sony television to watch programs produced by Sony Studios, and likewise I shouldn’t need an Android phone to get the best YouTube experience.

    • OtherGuest

      Yes you *do* need an Android phone to get the best YouTube experience. It’s like complaining you want the Samsung TV apps on your Sony TV because the Samsung ones are better. Maybe you should have bought an Android phone instead of a Microsoft phone? For years Microsoft has shafted the rest of the industry with their lock-in and embrace & extent strategies, destroying fair competition and innovation. And now they find themselves on the wrong end of the stick they start to scream like a spoiled little brat. Time to grow up Microsoft and learn to innovate and compete against the Big Boys.

      • Guest

        I don’t want the Samsung TV apps. They suck. I want YouTube, which is television, to be everywhere, as television is.

        I demand that you release your YouTube app everywhere, Google!

      • GG002

        That’s a pathetic argument. YT wasn’t even invented by Google, and many of us were on YT BEFORE Google came and shat all over it. You should get some facts before acting like a child. By the way, MS was penalised for this, and so should Google be. PENALISED.

      • Joe_HTH

        What the fuck are you smoking douche bag? Google didn’t do shit but buy Youtube and make it worse. Secondly, Microsoft’s services and platforms, with the exception of maybe Bing, are superior to Google’s. Google doesn’t innovate shit.

        Get a clue dumbass.

    • symbolset

      Since Microsoft is really good at making second class copies of all Google properties, they should just knock themselves out and make their own Youtube. Problem solved.

  • http://twitter.com/SurynLongbotham Suryn Longbotham

    It seems to be working better… for now. A few weeks ago half the videos wouldn’t play because I needed to “Add this video to a playlist”, then none of the videos worked because I needed to “Choose an app to play this video”. Then magically all the videos started working again. Frustrating, but it’s a great phone (Lumia 920) so I’ll put up with it.

  • guest

    Well, now that the FTC investigation of Google is closed, I imagine MS’s feeble protestations over things like this will subside.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottmoore.seattle Scott Moore

    Interesting article, and well written.

    Back in the old days the windows operating system was called a “socket” inside Microsoft. Control the socket and you control the app experience. Control the app experience and other OS vendors can’t compete. MS has been beat at their own game.

    To be fair though, Apple is no better. Look at what they’re doing to Adobe right now, especially with Flash. In the end it’s always the consumer that loses, as our data containers are all proprietary.

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    Evil Google is the enemy of the “open” web

    Google’s hypocrisy is a disgrace, and it’s users who ultimately suffer most from such outrageous anti-competitive practices by malignant tax-avoiding corporations.

    For over a decade, Google has been the self-proclaimed champion of “open”. The corporation has spent ten years feigning self-serving support for “open standards” and “open source” and “open data” and “open APIs” etc. The perceived trendiness of “open” can be largely attributed to Google’s support. But for Google “open” has always been a convenient falsehood — little more than a stick with which to beat commercial rivals, especially Microsoft and more recently Apple. The reality is, of course, that Google only cares about “open” as and when it suits their own narrow corporate agenda.

    What makes Google’s blatant monopolistic and antitrust practices all the more comical is that this two-faced corporation has been at the forefront of the campaign against Microsoft for antitrust, even succeeding in persuading the lamentable EU to force Microsoft to prompt all users with an option to install rival software! Google and Apple achieved this nonsensical assault against MS with help from Google’s “non-profit” glove-puppet and wholly-owned subsidiary, Mozilla, who made much play of their Firefox browser. (Google then promptly stabbed Mozilla in the back by launching their own browser and revealing their true and typically self-serving motives for undermining IE.)

  • NGM123

    MS should fight fire with fire and ban google products from windows, fk em.