Play: a fantastic utility to save and organize YouTube videos for later


Today, Marcos Tanaka released Play, an app for iPhone, iPad and Mac to save links to YouTube videos for later. The app does not save the videos themselves. Instead, it saves their URLs, along with their metadata, making it easier to organize, sort, filter, and rediscover videos that might otherwise go down the drain.

Play is a prime example of how purpose-built apps often overshadow more general solutions. There are many ways to save a YouTube video for later, from a bare URL pasted into a text file to a bookmark or watch-later application. YouTube also has its own solution with its Watch Later playlist. Every solution I’ve tried in the past works to some degree, but focusing only on the experience of saving YouTube links to watch later, Play beats them all.

Any app designed to store media for later needs multiple ways to easily access app content, which is what Play excels at. The app includes an action extension on iOS and iPadOS that lets you tag video URLs with previously saved tags or a new one before saving the video to Play. Inline tagging is a good idea, as that first organizational element added in the moment goes a long way to making it easier to navigate videos in the app later.

You can also add YouTube URLs to Play for iOS and iPadOS one at a time or in batches. The advantage of adding URLs one by one is that the app detects if a YouTube link is in the clipboard and automatically opens the view to assign tags and add the video. All versions of the app also support drag and drop adding videos, with the iPhone and iPad allowing multiple videos to be dragged into the app at once. You can also add videos using shortcuts, which I’ll cover below.

The Mac version of the app works a bit differently. You can add one or more videos at a time, but there is no automatic clipboard link detection, although I understand the feature is planned for a future version of the app. Another difference from the Mac version of the app is that it doesn’t include a sharing or Safari extension, which would be a nice addition.

The main user interface of Play for iPhone and iPad offers the choice between grid and list views. The grid view includes each video’s thumbnail, title, and channel name, while the list view is more compact and adds the date you saved the video, the date it was posted, and its duration. On the Mac, the choice is between a compact table view and list views, with the table view resembling the list view in the Finder.

Whichever view you choose, you have several options for sorting and filtering your videos. You can sort by date added, date published, title or channel, ordered by newest or oldest first. You can also enable or disable the visibility of viewed videos and filter the list based on any of the tags you have assigned to the videos. Watched videos that remain visible are identifiable by the fact that they appear grayed out compared to unwatched ones. Play’s main UI also offers search by title, channel, or tag. Overall, the search, filter, and sort options make navigating through a huge collection of YouTube videos much easier than any other app I’ve used.

Your video collection syncs across devices via iCloud, and you have the option in Settings to automatically mark the videos you watch as watched or delete them. From the settings, you can also process videos in batches, selecting multiple videos to flag them, mark them as watched or new, or delete them.

The app offers three sizes of widgets on iPhone and Mac and four on iPad. I liked keeping a big widget with my latest recorded videos on my iPad home screen. The widgets are editable, allowing you to change the accent color of the widget and apply filters and sort the displayed videos. However, if you are using iOS or iOS 15.4 beta 1 or macOS 12.3 beta 1, there is a bug that currently prevents you from editing widgets.

Last but not least, Play supports shortcuts on all platforms. One of my gripes about many apps that save links or other media for later is that they tend to be very good at embedding media in their apps, but not again. Play excels at both, making it a great choice for custom video workflows.

Play includes the following actions:

  • add a video
  • Create a tag
  • Add a label
  • Remove label
  • Mark as watched
  • Get the video

It’s a powerful selection, of which Get Video is my favorite because it includes many of the filtering options I mentioned above as settings. Not only can you fetch videos based on their title, but you can also specify a channel, how the videos are sorted, what tags are included, and the date before or after they are added to the app. This action alone provides enormous flexibility when combined with other applications.

There’s an added bonus on the Mac: support for Charlie Monroe’s excellent YouTube downloader, Downie. Right-clicking on any saved video in Play or pressing ⌘D launches Downie and the video begins to download. I love this feature because it makes it easy to download videos to watch later on my Apple TV.

Along with Club MacStories+ members, I put Play through its paces for nearly two months on our community Discord’s Beta Beat channel, and what struck me about the app was is how quickly it became a staple on all my devices. . It took away the temptation to interrupt what I was doing to watch a video I came across because I know I will have trouble finding it later. Instead, I send it to Play, revisiting it later when I enjoy some downtime.

Play is available on the App Store as a one-time universal purchase for $1.99.


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