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It doesn’t seem like a huge undertaking, but enabling swipe navigation in YouTube’s mobile app allegedly took Google two years. The feature, which launched yesterday, aids ease of use by increasing accuracy for the user.

Rather than tapping an icon, they can now swipe left to see the video they were watching previously, and right to go to the next recommendation. Naturally, its harder to perform the completely wrong gesture than accidentally tap an icon, and it also takes less effort.

It’s a minor improvement, but Popular Science says it was a complex problem for YouTube’s design team. ‘Swipey watch’, as it’s nicknamed internally,  requires “a relatively fundamental change to the page”.


According to YouTube Watch product manager Matthew Derby, the team built a number of prototypes. There was a constant struggle to balance a feeling of springiness while containing performance. Then there were the creators themselves to consult, ensuring the feature would work on both ends.

iOS-First Release

Despite the efforts, Swipey watch isn’t quite ready on Android. Strangely, Google is releasing the feature on a rival platform before its own, the feature expected to be in everyone’s hands within a week.

Though YouTube does plan to launch the feature on Android, it’s yet to give a release date. It’s not clear if it’s using iOS as a guinea pig before launching on its OS, or simply thinks Apple users value such functionality more.

Once it’s fully available, this addition should increase the time users spend on mobile YouTube. Making it easy to switch to the next video will naturally keep users more absorbed and less likely to take breaks. Previous videos will even continue playing from where you left off.

Even so, the feature only drives better engagement if Google’s recommendation engine is strong. Personally, I’ve found it to be hit or miss, but your experience may vary.