Jer Noble of Apple’s WebKit team has dished on some changes coming to video behavior in iOS 10. Specifically, elements that use the <video> tag but have no audio will be allowed to autoplay. The reason for this?
It turns out that people these days really like GIFs. But the GIF format turns out to be a very expensive way to encode animated images when compared to a modern video codec like H.264. We’ve found that GIFs can be up to twelve times as expensive in bandwidth and twice as expensive in energy use. It’s so expensive that many of the largest GIF providers have been moving away from GIFs and toward the <video> element. Since most of these GIFs started out their lives as video clips, were converted into animated GIFs, and were again converted back to video clips, you might say that the circle is complete.
But while this move does spare websites’ bandwidth costs as well as saving users’ batteries, it comes at a usability cost. On iOS 9, <video>s will only begin playing as a result of a user gesture. So pages which replace an <img> with a <video> will require a user gesture before displaying their animated content, and, on iPhone, the <video> will enter fullscreen when starting playback.
Better support for GIFs was one of my wish list items for iOS and while this doesn’t totally address that—for better or worse, GIFs are still the standard for sharing animated images online—it does seem like Apple is skating to where the puck will eventually be.