Open letter to YouTube mobile web devs

And so the mobile version of YouTube was launched. Too bad that there is no feedback page for their mobile service, so here’s an open letter instead:

Dear Mobile Web Developer of YouTube,

1. Your mobile site is CSS-dependant for lots of things. This is a no-no if you want good mobile browser compatibility. I am not advocating to ditch CSS, but I do advocate to include alternatives in the code (e.g. attributes on the BODY tag for bgcolor, topmargin, link colors etc). You see, phones that don’t support CSS will pick up the HTML and phones that do will pick up the CSS by default. For example, Nokia’s S40 phones can playback your videos, but your pages look dreadful, and that would be easily avoided wtih a bit of legacy coding as a fallback.

2. The videos are resized to 192×144. While this retains the 4:3 aspect ratio of the source YouTube videos (which are in fact 320×240), the 192×144 resolution is very, very, incompatible with most phones. Not only most 176×220 phones will REFUSE to playback that video because 192 > 176 (even if they technically would be able to), but also even some QVGA higher-end phones will choke. You see, cellphones prefer to only support predefined resolutions, e.g. 128×96, 176×144, 176×132 (rare), 320×240, and that’s about it. It is easier to program a mobile video player this way and so MOST phones don’t support random resolutions, even if they adhere to 4:3.
The solution should have been this:
When a mobile user is clicking to view a video, there should be two links:
Click for 320×208 or smaller screens
Click for 320×240 or bigger screens

For the first case a 176×144 at 15fps 3GP video is served which will be slightly out of proportion (small price to pay for compatibility) and for the QVGA case a 320×240 at 15fps MP4 video is served (not 3GP). Yes, it makes the UI a bit more perplexing, but it guarantees better compatibility with most phones. Eventually users will find the right choice for them and a cookie can help the situation to never have to choose ever again. The way that Mobile YouTube is setup right now, only about 20% of the modern phones are supported (estimation). With my solution, while still not ideal, you can go up to 80%.

3. All the video thumbnail images on YouTube Mobile are either 130×97 or 122×100, and then they are resized to either 40×30 or 80×60 on the fly. Why?!? Not only you waste bytes for no good reason (images are between 3 and 4 KB each, while they could easily be 1 or 2 KB each if they had resized them properly) while we all know how slow even EDGE can be, no matter if you have an unlimited data plan or not. More over, many mobile browsers ignore the forcing of on-the-fly resizing of images and that will make things worse. Each thumbnail should have been properly resized by your engine in the two required sizes, not be resized forcefully. Let alone that forcefully resized images by browsers only use the faster “smart resize” algorithm instead of the bilinear algorithm, resulting in much lower quality.

4. Are you blocking Apple’s QuickTime?

Your friendly neighbor,
Eugenia

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