In yet another installment of the PWA-in-Google-Play-Store saga, Google is now moving the web version of YouTube Music into a more fully-realized PWA (progressive web app) and is delivering it via the Play Store for Chromebooks. This one comes with a few interesting and unique caveats, so there are a couple things to go over, but it is very cool to see Google continue moving in this direction for Chromebook-specific apps in their library that take full advantage of the growing power of the web.
Where to find it
First up – and this is something Google needs to fix – you need to know what to search in order to find this particular app. Unlike Google News or YouTube TV that also install a PWA via the Play Store listing, YouTube Music is in a bit of a unique situation for now. In order to actually find and install this app, you need to search “YouTube Music for Chromebook” in the Play Store from your Chrome OS device. Searching only for YouTube Music will deliver the standard app version and that’s definitely not the one we’re discussing here in this post. If you fail to include the “…for Chromebook” part, the Play Store will simply route you to the standard version with no other options.
Since the Android app version offers the ability to download and store music locally, Google is choosing to leave both available for Chromebook users. The Android app isn’t as reliable in operation and doesn’t look as good, but it does offer offline, downloadable content where the PWA doesn’t.
With other PWAs in the Play Store like Google News, Twitter, and YouTube TV, offline content isn’t necessary and this gives Google reason to simply push Chromebook users to the PWA by default. For now, it seems the standard Android version and Chromebook-specific PWA will remain available side-by-side until the Chrome team can figure out a way for downloaded content to work on web-based applications.
Some things are better
In testing the app this morning, I’ve noticed a few improvements over the standard usability found at music.youtube.com. First up – and this is a big one – when using the official PWA, you no longer get kicked out of your streaming session if you change accounts in another tab. More times than I care to count, I’ve had music playback just stop altogether when I moved between Google accounts in an open tab with YouTube open. This happens a lot for me through the day since I have to be in the Chrome Unboxed account frequently and like to go back to my personal, ad-free account when finished.
Before this new app landed, one quick account switch in YouTube would stop music playback in the seemingly-unrelated YouTube Music tab since I was technically switching accounts in YouTube. Obviously, the Android app never suffered from this hiccup and I’m happy to report the PWA doesn’t either. It will default to whatever account was last logged into YouTube when you first open it up, but changing accounts and then moving accounts in open Chrome tabs afterwards will have no ill effect on your YouTube Music PWA playback. Very nice.
Some things are still not better
Ugh. Casting is still not native in this application and I still can’t understand why. Yes, I know it was removed from the YouTube TV web app, but we think that is a hiccup, not a feature change. With nearly all of Google’s properties having the ability to cast from both the app and the web, why they insist on skipping YouTube Music is absolutely beyond me at this point. It is ridiculous and infuriating and I’ll honestly still be a bit aggravated when they day comes that they fix it simply because it took so long to integrate into a platform with the YouTube name affixed to it.
Because of this omission, casting from the 3-dot menu up top still has the annoying habit of dipping the audio every time a notification hits your Chromebook if there’s a sound associated. Do you have a notification sound set for Discord, WhatsApp or Messages? Welp, your music will dip in and out constantly if you use this new PWA to cast your music to one of many of Google’s own smart speakers or displays. Annoying? Yep. Totally fixable with the simple addition of a cast button in YouTube Music. Also yep.
When it comes down to it, this PWA is a move in the right direction and with a simple addition of a cast button, the new YouTube Music for Chromebook will be a fine solution for Google’s music streaming platform and Chromebook users. As it stands right now, the new app is only marginally better than simply opening a tab and navigating to music.youtube.com. If they get casting sorted out, it solves many issues I have with the app and really the only other big feature missing is the ability to download music for offline playback. That will take another big step forward for the web in general, I assume, so I’m not holding my breath for that one.