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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.

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