macOS Sierra Preview: Picture in Picture video multitasking comes to the Mac

By , Jul 29, 2016

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture teaser 001

Picture in Picture, a self-explanatory feature which debuted on compatible iPads with last September’s release of iOS 9, is coming to the desktop near you. That’s right, now desktop users can watch video while they’re multitasking on their Mac, thanks to Picture in Picture support on macOS Sierra.

With a click, you can float a clip from Safari or iTunes in a window over your desktop, and continue watching it as you’re multitasking. The video can be resized, dragged and pinned to any corner of the screen and it even stays put when you switch Spaces.

Video hands-on: Picture in Picture on Sierra

On the current beta 3 of Sierra, Picture in Picture is still a bit rough around the edges.

As an example, Facebook and YouTube’s HTML5 video player won’t work with Picture in Picture though you can enable it for YouTube with a few clicks. Also, Netflix, Hulu and some other services don’t work with Picture in Picture, for the time being.

Having tested Picture in Picture on the third Sierra beta, my colleague Andrew O’Hara has put together this hands-on video running three minutes and 15 seconds long.

Don’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube!

And please, subscribe to iDownloadBlog’s YouTube channel on your way out for additional hands-on videos, previews, reviews, how-tos and more.

Picture in Picture in Safari

Picture in Picture on macOS Sierra is very familiar to Picture in Picture that we’ve come to love on our iPads. When playing a clip in iTunes or an embedded web video in Safari from websites that use HTML5 video player, like Vimeo, you’ll notice a new Picture in Picture icon in the video player.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture Vimeo Mac screenshot 001

Click that new button and the embedded video automatically disengages from the webpage and zooms into its own overlay window with a subtle little animation.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture Vimeo Mac screenshot 006

When viewing web video in Picture in Picture, Safari cautions you that “The video is playing in Picture in Picture”. You’ll notice that the video overlay always floats over the desktop or any full-screen app. This lets you go about doing something else on your computer while keeping an eye on the video.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture snapping Mac screenshot 001

The floating window can be docked to any corner of the desktop, as shown on the screenshot right above. To see more or less of what’s behind the video, drag any corner to resize the overlay window, like on the iPad. To switch it back to its originating app, click inside the overlay to reveal the controls, then click the Picture in Picture icon.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture controls Mac screenshot 001

So, does Picture in Picture play nicely with Split View multitasking? I’m pleased to report that yes, you can watch your favorite clips in Picture in Picture as you’re multitasking, or working in side-by-side Split View mode.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture Split View Mac screenshot 001

And for naysayers out there, here’s photographic evidence that Picture in Picture works perfectly with OS X’s native full-screen mode. You can’t clearly see it from the screenshot, but the detached video remains static on the screen as I swoosh between the iTunes window, at left, and fullscreen Safari, at right.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture full screen apps Mac screenshot 001

Enabling Picture in Picture for YouTube videos

As mentioned, Picture in Picture on the third beta of Sierra lacks a dedicated button on YouTube’s HTML5 desktop video player. Thankfully, enabling Picture in Picture for YouTube requires a simple extra step.

1) Go to in Safari and click a video to start playing it.

2) Right-click inside the video that you wish to float over the desktop, but don’t select anything yet.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture enable on YouTube Mac screenshot 001

3) After YouTube’s popup menu appears, right-click again to reveal Sierra’s own menu, then click Enter Picture-in-Picture in the new popup menu to detach the video.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture enable on YouTube Mac screenshot 002

Sure enough, the clip instantly gets detached from YouTube’s interface.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture enable on YouTube Mac screenshot 003

You must repeat this for every YouTube clip you wish to watch in Picture in Picture.

This trick does not work with native Facebook videos, despite the social network’s use of the modern HTML5 video player. Of course, Facebook may choose to implement Picture in Picture for its desktop web interface by the time Sierra releases for public consumption, or shortly after.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture Facebook Mac screenshot 001

YouTube videos that have been shared on Facebook work in Picture in Picture without any issues, as do any embedded YouTube videos on any other website for that matter.

Picture in Picture in iTunes

Not only does Picture in Picture let you float web videos from Safari in an overlay, but also locally stored or streamed iTunes videos. Now, I know Andrew said in his video that Picture in Picture is currently unavailable in iTunes.

That said, I was able to get it to work after updating my copy of iTunes to version 12.5, which becomes available through the Mac App Store’s Updates tab after upgrading to macOS Sierra beta 3, so there’s that.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture iTunes Mac screenshot 001

As I said, you can detach any video stored in your iTunes library, including any purchases, rentals and streamed clips, like podcasts not downloaded to your Mac. Again, you simply click the Picture in Picture icon in the iTunes video player to detach the clip from the iTunes window. Here’s watching the WWDC 2016 keynote video podcast from iTunes in Picture in Picture mode.

macOS Sierra Picture in Picture iTunes Mac screenshot 002

Picture in Picture for developers

A software development kit (SDK) for macOS Sierra provides new APIs and services for creating apps and websites with Picture in Picture support. Now, the default HTML5 video player used by Safari and a lot of other websites automatically provides support for Picture in Picture without any intervention required on the developer’s part.

But if your website or a Mac app uses a custom video player, it’s easy to add a Picture in Picture control using the JavaScript presentation mode API.

Picture in Picture Q&A

Can I move Picture in Picture video outside screen borders?

On the iPad, the Picture in Picture overlay can be dragged outside of any screen edge to dock it out of the way. You cannot do that on the Mac in Sierra beta 3, but that might change in the future.

Can I dock Picture in Picture window?

Like on the iPad, Picture in Picture video can be docked in one of the four concerns of the screen.

Can I resize my Picture in Picture window?

Sure. Just click and drag any corner to resize the video.

Can I exit Picture in Picture mode?

Yes. Click the X button in the upper left corner of the Picture in Picture window to close the overlay.

Can I pop back Picture in Picture video into its originating app?

Yup. Click the Picture in Picture icon in the control strip on the floating video window to resume playing the clip in its original application.

Can I pause Picture in Picture video?

Yes. Click the video overlay to reveal the Play/Pause button.

Can I skip to different parts of Picture in Picture video?

You cannot scrub through the Picture in Picture video, nor can you rewind, fast forward or click to a certain point in time.

Does Picture in Picture work from Hulu, Netflix and Facebook?

No. The services you mentioned use their own video delivery methods to prevent copying, which don’t work with Picture in Picture. But as we mentioned, Apple provides APIs for developers so the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Facebook are free to add support for Picture in Picture, should they choose to do so.

Does Picture in Picture work in Chrome?

No. Picture in Picture works in Safari, iTunes and any app or website that uses macOS’s native video controls or the standard HTML5 video player. Google may update Chrome with Picture in Picture support when Sierra releases this fall.

Does Picture in Picture work with Flash video?

No. Flash died a slow death. Didn’t you get the memo?

Can I make Picture in Picture window larger than 1/4 of the screen


Does Picture in Picture extend to Spaces?

Yes, the Picture in Picture overlay persists as you scroll through Spaces.

Does Picture in Picture work in Split View multitasking?


Does Picture in Picture work with full-screen Mac apps.

Yes, native full-screen mode works just fine with Picture in Picture.

Can Picture in Picture overlay be centered on the screen?

No, the overlay always snaps to the nearest corner.

Will my Mac support Picture in Picture?

Apple hasn’t yet released system requirements for Picture in Picture. On iOS, Picture in Picture requires the iPad Pro, iPad Air or later and iPad mini 2 or later so it’s reasonably safe to assume that Picture in Picture on Sierra could require one of the newer Mac models with speedy graphics.

Other new features on Sierra

Some of the headlining new features in Sierra include:

  • Siri for Mac
  • Deeper integration with iOS through expanded Continuity features
  • Desktop and Documents sync via iCloud Drive
  • The ability to copy and paste text and media from one Apple device to another
  • Photos app with a new Memories feature that uses advanced objet recognition
  • Safari 10 with Picture-in-Picture, native Extensions and Apple Pay on websites

This is Siri on the Mac.

One of the cooler new Continuity features is Universal Clipboard and having the contents of your desktop and the Documents folder synced via iCloud so that items in these folders are available across iOS devices via the iCloud Drive app.

Here are these features in action.

And this is how you unlock the Mac by wearing your Apple Watch.

iDB previews macOS Sierra

For more goodies, see our in-depth Sierra previews:

Sierra has a lot to offer so many people should fall in love with it.

Our macOS Sierra Preview series will soon highlight additional features.

Sierra availability

macOS Sierra was initially made available as a developer-only preview to members of the Apple Developer Program in June before releasing for public beta-testing in July.

The operating system will release for public consumption this fall as a free software update via the Mac App Store. macOS Sierra has been confirmed to support a smaller number of Macs.

Compatible Mac models for Sierra include late-2009 and later MacBooks and iMacs and 2010-and-later MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, Mac minis and Mac Pros. Macs manufactured before 2009 won’t be supported.

Get the picture?

If run a beta of tvOS on your Apple TV, we’d like to hear your thoughts on Picture in Picture. Is this something that you’ll be using on a regular basis or one of those nice-to-haves that you’re glad to know is there should you ever need it, do you think?

In my humble opinion, this is one of the best new features to make its way to macOS Sierra. Given the amount of videos I watch on any give day, small wonder I’ve fallen in love with Picture in Picture and have since been using it regularly.

Typically, I’d use Picture in Picture to keep half an eye on an informative TED Talk while reading my news, for instance. I especially rely on Picture in Picture to keep up with UFO sightings and government conspiracies from my favorite YouTube channel for those kinds of things, SecureTeam10, while researching and writing stories for iDownloadBlog.

If you have suggestions for future tvOS previews, post them in the comment section below or email us at In planning future courage, we take into consideration any reasonable submissions.

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  • Wraith

    This is a nice feature! but you can have something very very similar to picture in picture for web videos on Windows and Mac with Opera Browser and the best thing is that is not OS dependent, so right now I have PIP for youtube from Yosemite.

  • Nice to see PIP in YouTube; thanks for the tip; sure hope it comes to the Firefox browser as well; maybe through a plugin

  • lemonhead

    For the time being checkout Picture in Picture on the Appstore, works better than this even with flash videos and Netflix… (not as fancy looking though)

  • Techalways

    Can Picture in Picture overlay be centered on the screen?

    No, the overlay always snaps to the nearest corner.
    *YES ! just hold Command while you move the window.