How to Download YouTube Videos to Your iPhone

download youtube to iPhone
image credits: iPhone image, Apple Inc.; YouTube logo, Google Inc.

Watching YouTube videos on the iPhone and iPod touch is simple. Just point your browser to YouTube.com or download the free YouTube app from iTunes. Find the video you're interested in, and you'll be watching a video it in no time (remember: watching a lot of video over a 3G or 4G wireless connection can eat up your monthly bandwidth limit pretty quickly).

But what about your favorite YouTube videos?

What if you want to watch them over and over again—even when you're not connected to the Internet? This is especially important on the iPod touch, since it only has a Wi-Fi connection, not an always-on cellular connection like the iPhone.

In that case, you need to download YouTube videos to your iPhone or iPod touch. There are a number of tools that make this a simple task.

Software for Downloading YouTube Videos to iPhone

There are a lot of tools that can save YouTube videos. Some are websites, some are programs that run on your computer, and others are apps that run directly on your iPhone. While this list is not comprehensive, here are some of the tools that can help (I haven't reviewed any of them, so I can't say which is best; it's a good idea to read reviews before you buy the paid apps):

  • Better Tube (iOS app; free, with in-app purchases)
  • ClipGrab (software for Windows, Mac, and Linux; free)

How to Download YouTube Videos

The exact steps required to download videos depends on which tool you're using. Different tools have different settings and steps.

These instructions roughly apply to most tools.

  1. Choose a tool from the list above, or by searching for another option at the App Store or your favorite search engine

  2. Once you have the tool ready, go to YouTube (either in the tool or in your web browser) and find the video you want to download. You'll probably need to copy and paste the URL of the video into the download tool

  3. When you're saving a video, choose the MP4 video format. Some tools won't give you this choice, but instead just offer the option create a video for iPhone/iPod. That works, too 

  4. When the video is done downloading, it will either be saved to your computer or saved in the app on your iPhone. If you downloaded the video on an iPhone, skip to step 6. If you saved the video on your computer, drag the video into iTunes to add it to your iTunes library

  5. With the video now saved in iTunes, sync your iPhone with your computer. In the Movies tab of the iTunes syncing screen, check the box next to the video you just downloaded from YouTube. Click the Sync button in the bottom right corner of the screen.

    With that, the YouTube video has been downloaded to your device just like any other video—and you can watch it whenever, and wherever, you want. You can view it in the built-in Videos app

  1. If you saved the video using an app, the video may be saved directly in the app you used to download it. If so, you should be able to watch it there.

    If it's not saved in the app, check the built-in Videos app. In it, you'll see all the videos on your device, including the one you just added. Tap it to watch the video.

But Should You Download YouTube Videos?

You can save YouTube videos, but does that mean you should? I'm definitely not an ethicist, but it seems to me that in many cases you probably shouldn't. 

When people or companies post videos to YouTube, they want to share their content, but they may also want to make money.

Many video creators get a share of the ad revenue generated by their videos. Some people, in fact, make videos as their full-time jobs and depend on ad revenue to live. When you save videos offline, those ads can't play and the creators of the video can't earn money.

Besides the video creators, YouTube itself makes money from the ads. It's a little harder to be sympathetic to a huge company, but it has employees and expenses and both are paid, at least in part, with ad revenue. 

I'm not necessarily saying you shouldn't save videos, but if you do, at least make sure you understand the consequences your actions have for other people.

Dealing with Older iPods

Some older iPods can play video, but none of them can connect to the Internet or run iOS apps. If you want to watch video on those models, you'll need to use a web-based tool or desktop software to download YouTube videos to your computer and then sync them to your iPod, as described in step 5 above.

The older iPod models that can play video are: