YouTube Go

Last year, Google announced that it would be introducing a barebones version of YouTube for Indian consumers primarily on 2G connections. Dubbed YouTube Go, the app is now available in beta from the Play Store for those located in India, offering a simplistic user interface and the ability to save videos offline.

Update: The app landed in the Play Store in February, but its availability was limited to a few users. Today, Google is making the beta available for everyone.

YouTube Go offers previews, allowing you to see segments of a video before proceeding with playing or downloading that particular video. You can also choose the resolution of the video to download, with two options available: basic (240p) or standard (360p) quality. If you want to locally save 720p or Full HD videos, you'll have to fall back to the full-fledged YouTube client.

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There's also the option of saving videos either onto the primary internal storage or onto an SD card, and you can also share downloaded videos with your friends over Wi-Fi Direct. The social aspect of YouTube Go is interesting, and it's easy to see that the app is targeted at a younger audience.

YouTube Go user interface

That said, one of the main drawbacks of the app is that it doesn't show you the channels you're subscribed to. All you get is a home page that shows videos trending locally. As I'm in Hyderabad, I get a lot of video suggestions in Telugu when I'm on LTE. As such, discoverability is a major problem. Playlists and comments are also missing from YouTube Go.

The app is available in eight local languages, making it easier for customers looking for regional content to start using the service. You sign up for YouTube Go using a phone number, and if Google finds an account associated with that number, it will ask you to sign in to YouTube Go with that email address. The interface is broken down into two tabs — Home and Saved — and you get a search box through which you can search for videos.

Overall, the app is significantly pared down when it comes to the features from the standard YouTube client, and the result is that it absolutely flies on my Pixel XL. It's obviously not aimed at high-end devices, but it's simplicity works in its favor considering a majority of devices sold in the country are under-powered and do not offer a lot of internal memory. For those devices, a lighter version of YouTube — the app's download size is 8MB, and it takes up 33MB of space — makes a lot of sense. As we've seen recently, Facebook Lite has amassed over 200 million users, so there is a market for lightweight apps that load fast and don't consume a lot of data, particularly in developing countries.

Google's efforts in rolling out internet access to the "next billion" users in India have been fruitful thus far, with the free Wi-Fi initiative now available at over 100 train stations across the country. At an event last month, Sundar Pichai reiterated Google's commitment to the Indian market, announcing new initiatives aimed at getting small businesses online. YouTube Go is a continuation of that vision. The app isn't catered to everyone, but for those that are on a metered data plan or are in an area where cellular connectivity is spotty (read: most of India), YouTube Go is a decent alternative.