Microsoft tosses in YouTube towel, returns to Web UI for Windows Phone

Hectic back-and-forth from May to August ends with Microsoft back where it started

Microsoft yesterday threw in the towel on its attempt to build its own YouTube app for Windows Phone, revising that app to shunt users instead to the browser for accessing Google's video service via the Web.

The Web-based player experience is where Microsoft started before May, when the Redmond, Wash. company first launched its own YouTube app for Windows Phone. Shortly after Microsoft published the app on its Windows Phone Store, Google issued a cease-and-desist letter demanding Microsoft yank the app.

The letter cited a laundry list of objections, including preventing the display of advertisements, allowing video downloads and playing videos that partners have blocked on certain mobile devices.

Microsoft caved a week later and pulled the app. At the same time, the two companies announced that they would collaborate on a YouTube app that abided by the Google-owned video site's terms of service and its API (application programming interface) rules.

But after Microsoft re-released its YouTube app -- presumably one that adhered to Google's requirements -- in mid-August, Google quickly blocked it. That sparked condemnation from one of Microsoft's lawyers, who accused Google of using double standards to block its app.

"Google's objections to our app are not only inconsistent with Google's own commitment of openness, but also involve requirements for a Windows Phone app that it doesn't impose on its own platform or Apple's," said deputy general counsel David Howard in a blog post Aug. 15.

Yesterday, Microsoft released another update to its Windows Phone YouTube app. According to Windows Phone Central, which first reported on the re-release, the app was a throwback to the Web player days. Clicking on a YouTube link opened the video service within the Internet Explorer browser bundled with Windows Phone, and touching the app's icon simply redirected users to the Web-based mobile user interface (UI).

Users were both confused and frustrated, and not surprisingly, blamed Microsoft not Google, most likely because they didn't know the backstory of the back and forth between the rivals.

"Doesn't work anymore," said a commenter identified as "cortney" in the Reviews section of the app's page in the Windows Phone Store. "Really ****** me off. Have to borrow other peoples phone to watch a **** video."

Scores of others said the same. "Well this is a big letdown," added "Manish" yesterday in another review comment. "The new UI looks good but app doesn't work ever. Maybe Microsoft ****** Google off and they have blocked it. Dear Microsoft, sort things out. We don't want have an app on our phone that doesn't work."

Microsoft and Google have been at odds over YouTube since at least 2011. At the time, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, said his company had filed a formal complaint with European antitrust regulators and cited, among other issues, Google's refusal to put Windows Phone on par with rival mobile operating systems, including Android and Apple's iOS, in accessing the popular video service.

Some analysts have argued that Google is playing hardball, leveraging YouTube to block any progress by Windows Phone in the marketplace. "Google's going for the death blow," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an August interview.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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