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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Better GIF support in iOS and OS X

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

When Apple introduced the Live Photos capability of the 6s and 6s Plus last year, it was quick to distinguish those moving images from animated GIFs. (And they’re not quite, of course.) But as much as I enjoy Live Photos, it’s impossible to ignore that animated GIFs have become part of the Internet landscape–especially on social media–and iOS’s native support for them is…lacking.1

Han & Chewie

For example, I really like the official Star Wars app because it contains a number of super convenient, high-quality, pre-sliced GIFs from the best movies of all times, as well as from the attendant animated TV series, and some other weird trilogy of movies that looks terrible.

But the problem is that not all apps on iOS recognize GIFs as animated. So while I can save an image from the Star Wars app to my photos, if I then open Photos, that image doesn’t show up as animated. I can even then text that apparently static GIF to someone and it wouldn’t animate until it had been sent.2

Worse, some apps on iOS take it a step further by converting animated GIFs into static images. For example, if you paste an animated GIF into Notes–which also shows it as a static image–and then save that image to Photos, you’ll actually end up with a motionless PNG instead.

To help fix this mess, I’d like to see a few small improvements in a future version of iOS: First, better support for GIFs across the system. Display animated GIFs in Photos (if not automatically, then with a long-press or 3D Touch à la Live Photos–or at least with a Play button like videos). Second, make it easier to copy and paste animated GIFs between apps without inadvertently losing said animation. And finally, provide a Smart Album of GIFs within Photos–à la Selfies, Panoramas, Slo-Mo, etc.–to make it easy to find your collection of animated images.


I realize that there’s likely to be some collision and confusion between GIFs and Live Photos, but since the latter are proprietary to Apple’s platforms, it’s not as though people are going to stop using GIFs. Instead, iOS (and OS X) should be better citizens where this standard format is in use.

  1. There are, of course, apps to convert Live Photos into GIFs. Unsurprisingly, that doesn’t seem to work in reverse…because why exactly would you want to? 
  2. Until I recently realized that the images saved to Photos really were GIFs and not static images, I had a super confusing workaround that involved texting GIFs to myself via Messages. Stay in school, kids. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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