One of the questions we are asked most often on Macworld is how to download a YouTube video to an iPad or iPhone, so you can watch it offline? After all, the web is full of great video content, but you haven't always got an internet connection on your iOS device. Plus it's incredibly annoying when something good gets removed from YouTube. Downloading isn’t officially sanctioned by YouTube itself, a point to bear in mind before you begin, but if you are unperturbed by this you’ll find several third party apps that will happily oblige.
Here's how to download YouTube videos directly to your iPad or iPhone without involving iTunes. And the best part is that it's free, not to mention refreshingly easy. (Just see the section at the end of this tutorial about legal issues.)
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Download video to iPad & iPhone: Select and install a downloader app
Neither iOS 8's Safari web browser (if you're browsing the YouTube website) or Google's own YouTube app offer a way to download YouTube videos and save them on the iPad or iPhone’s storage. To accomplish this, a trip to the app store is in order. Searching for ‘video downloader’ will return several apps, but in this tutorial we’ll be using the free Video Downloader Lite Super – VDownload. While many of the apps offer free versions, most of them are festooned with adverts and pop-up messages urging you to upgrade to the Premium edition. You'll probably get used to them after a while, but if not, reliquishing a small fee for the paid version is a quick and reasonably painless solution.
Due to slightly shady nature of downloading from YouTube, it’s not unusual to see these kinds of apps being removed from the App Store, or suddenly having their downloading functions curtailed. We’ve had several apps stop working over the years (a number stopped just after we downloaded iOS 8 including Video Downloaded (the blue icon below), and it’s something you’ll need to factor in if you want to build an offline YouTube library. It’s never difficult to find an alternative, but paying for multiple versions can feel like a lottery at times.
Luckily the Video Downloaded - VDownload app still works, at least for now. That's the orange icon in the top row. As you can see multiple apps often have exactly the same name except for the few words after the dash, so make sure you get the correct one.
Download video to iPad & iPhone: Select a video, and save it to memory
Start up the VDownload app by tapping the icon that appeared on your Home screen when you downloaded it from the App Store. The interface looks quite bare when it first loads up, with just a few tips in the main pane and several icons at the bottom of the screen. The icons give you access to the Browser, Downloads (anything actively downloading), Files (previously downloaded files), Playlists, and Settings.
To get started ensure that the browser icon is selected (coloured blue) then tap on the grey bar at the top of the page. Now enter the URL for YouTube (www.youtube.com) and you’ll be taken directly to the video wonderland. Search for something you want to download, then you’ll either be prompted with a menu at the start that has Download at the top, or if not just tap and hold the middle of the video pane and the menu will appear. Select the Download option, name the file, tap Save, and the app will start downloading it to the Files section. Once it’s finished you’ll be able to watch the video even if disaster strikes and you find yourself without an internet connection.
Download video to iPad & iPhone: View saved videos
To view one of the videos you've saved, simply tap on the Files icon, and you’ll be presented with a list of all downloads currently in your library. You can also sort them into playlists by tapping on the information icon at the far right of each video.
Download video to iPad & iPhone: Is it legal to download YouTube videos?
This is all very easy. But bear in mind in that it's legally - and morally - a bit shady. For a start, the people that create videos on YouTube (which includes Macworld, incidentally) have worked hard on their videos and are entitled to place advertising on them and earn some money. By downloading the video and watching it on a third-party app (with the app maker's adverts, instead of YouTube's) you're preventing Google and the video creator from profiting from their work.
And obviously you absolutely must not attempt to profit from any videos you download for which you don't own the copyright - this is for personal use only. For more discussion of this issue, see 'Is it legal to download YouTube videos?'