How to download YouTube videos directly to your iPhone

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download YouTube videos iPhone
You too can view the radiant Ste Smith in all his offline glory.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Ever had the need to download YouTube videos to your iPhone for later viewing? Maybe you want to watch some clips on your commute without burning through your cellular data? Perhaps you’re a language or music teacher, and you want to keep teaching material offline, instead of relying on your pupil’s Wi-Fi?

Today we’re going to see how to use Apple’s amazing Workflow app to download a YouTube video to your iPhone, then save it to your Camera Roll. And it’s easy to pick another destination of your choice, including Dropbox, or a local app.

No Mac required — this method is iOS-only

Most methods to download YouTube videos for offline watching on your iPhone or iPad involve using your Mac to do the downloading, then iTunes (or an iTunes-like workaround) to get those videos onto your device. This one uses the Apple-acquired app Workflow, which lets you automate all kinds of tasks on your iDevice.

Previewing workflows before you use them is a good idea.
Previewing workflows before you use them is a good idea.
Photo: Cult of Mac

One of the nicest features of Workflow is the ability to share workflows. The one we’re using today comes from danielnotdan, posted on the Workflow subreddit. To use it, you just head over there and download the workflow. It’s the first one you find in the Reddit thread. If you have the Workflow app on your iPhone or iPad, you can open it right up in the app and it’ll be ready to go. As always when downloading any app, script, or executable code from the internet, double-check you’re happy that it is safe before use. Shared workflows can be previewed in the browser before downloading, so make sure you do that.

You can run the workflow from inside Safari.
You can run the workflow from inside Safari.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Once you’re happy with the Download YouTube workflow, you should tap the Get Workflow link, whereupon it will be loaded into the Workflow app for you. Then, all you have to do when you want to grab a YouTube video is tap the Share Arrow, Tap Run Workflow, then choose your new Download YouTube workflow from the list.

Download YouTube videos to a location of your choice

Danielnotdan’s excellent workflow locates the iOS-compatible MP4 files and downloads it. It then presents the resulting video in a Quick Look window. From there, you can watch the clip immediately, or you can use the Share Arrow to open it in your app of choice, or save it to your iCloud Drive, your Dropbox, or to your Camera Roll.

The Camera Roll is certainly a convenient spot for a video, but if you’re using iCloud Photo Library, it could quickly max out your storage. Instead, you might consider something like Dropbox if space is tight on your iPad, but that kid of defeats the point of having an offline download. You can also use Open In… to save the video in another app, something like the excellent Speed Up TV.

Tweaking the Workflow to save where you want it

Adding a step is as easy as dragging it to the workflow.
Adding a step is as easy as dragging it to the workflow.
Photo: Cult of Mac

To edit the Download YouTube workflow, just open up the Workflow app and tap it in the list. Here’ you’ll see all the steps that danielnotdan put together for you. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see the final step is Quick Look. This takes the downloaded video and shows it to you. But what if you want to add it to your Camera Roll instead?

To add a new final step, head over to the actions list on the left, and find the one named Save to Photo Album. You can scroll to find it, or just tap a few letters into the search bar to narrow the choice. Then, just drag the action to the bottom of your workflow. You can also delete the Quick Look step if you prefer.

By default, the Save to Photo Album action will save to your All Photos album. If you tap the All Photos label in the action, you can pick another album. That makes it easier to find your saved clips later.

And that’s it. Next time you want to save a YouTube video, just tap the Safari Share Arrow, choose danielnotdan’s workflow, and wait for it to do its stuff. The result will end up in your Camera Roll.

Other options to download YouTube videos

The Reddit thread where danielnotdan posted his workflow has several alternate versions, some which will save only the audio from a YouTube video, and at least one which will attempt to grab the title of the video to use as a filename (I haven’t been able to get that last one to work). So while you’re there grabbing danielnotdan’s workflow, you might take a look around to see if anything else catches your interest.

  • Undivided

    Some youtube videos wont download with the workflow. I get a blank white space in camera roll.

    • BBelgum

      Thank you. I thought I was doing something wrong.