What’s All the Fuss About?
Picture in Picture
What is it?
Picture in Picture (PIP for short) is a way of continuing to view video content in a small window while you carry out other tasks on your device.
Can’t I do that already?
Possibly, depending on which device you’re using. Picture in Picture has been around in one shape or another for some time now. Your TV or set-top box, for example, may well display the current channel in a small PIP window while you browse the electronic programme guide (EPG). And, of course, any Windows PC will let you resize your desktop media player window so you can carry on working while a video plays in a corner of your screen.
So, what’s new then?
Recently, we’ve started to see PIP popping up on other devices, including tablets and smartphones. In 2015, Apple added PIP support to its ipad range with IOS 9. Microsoft confirmed its support for PIP in Windows 10 earlier this year via a Creators Update feature called Compact Overlay, which lets you watch videos in an ‘always-on-top’ mini view while using another program in full screen underneath. Even more recent is the news that the latest version of Android (numbered 8, and called Oreo) adds built-in PIP support to compatible phones and tablets (see screenshot right).
How does it work?
In apps that support it you’ll usually find a small button that lets you switch between normal mode and PIP mode. In Windows 10’s Films & TV app, for example, you can click (or tap) the square-within- a-square icon at the bottom right to switch to mini view. The video-playback window shrinks down but floats above all your other open windows. Click or tap the icon again to return to normal view. The same principles apply to IOS and Android apps, though many Pip-enabled ipad apps will automatically switch to mini mode when you press the Home button. In some cases, you can also resize the PIP window.
Which apps and services use it?
It’s down to individual app developers whether they enable PIP support or not, so not all apps will let you run them in mini mode. Many built-in apps support PIP in IOS (Video, Facetime), Android Oreo (Chrome and Youtube), and Windows 10 (Skype, Film & TV app). A small but growing number of third-party apps do, too. Plex supports PIP on ipads, for example, and Whatsapp recently announced that it will be supporting PIP on Android Oreo.
What would you use it for?
Basically, PIP offers a way to do two things at once. If you’re watching a movie, for instance, and suddenly remember an email you need to send, you can quickly type your message while the film continues to play. Similarly, if you’re video-chatting with someone and need to check a date in your calendar app or a figure in a spreadsheet (see main image), you can do so without having to end your call or put the other person on hold.
Is it a just a gimmick, or is it genuinely useful?
In practice, it can take a bit of getting used to, but we’d happily list PIP in the ‘genuinely useful’ column. Anything that helps improve the multi-tasking abilities of mobile devices is worth having in our books.