With iOS 10 Safari, Apple improves the animated GIFs experience on iPhone and iPad


iOS 10 includes a lot of new flagship features, from iMessage apps to a Siri SDK, as well as a lot of small tweaks and enhancements. The WebKit blog is highlighting one of these small feature changes, which makes watching animated GIFs on the web way better with iOS 10.

A lot of GIFs today are actually encoded as videos as GIF itself is a very bad format for animated content despite its popularity. However, Apple has imposed many restrictions on how videos behave in iPhone Safari such as requiring user interaction for playback to start until now. Up until iOS 9, many websites displayed GIFs as <video> elements but were held back by the limitations Apple enforced. With iOS 10, silent videos can now autoplay in the page, perfect for animated GIFs …

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Rather than requiring a play button and an explicit tap, GIF websites will be able to display animated GIFs just like any normal image (even though the underlying node is actually a <video> element) on the iPhone and iPad with iOS 10. Apple is relaxing some policies just for videos that have no sound (or are muted).

This prevents things like spammy autoplay videos from interrupting your browsing but allows for things like animated GIFs to provide a much better user experience.

Specifically, iOS 10 will now respect the autoplay attribute of the <video> element when source video tracks have no audio or have been muted. If a video gains an audio track without user interaction, the video will pause. Playback begins when the content is visible on screen and is automatically paused when scrolled off the viewport, for performance reasons.

All videos can also be played back inline on iPhone and iPad, another change for iOS 10. The benefits are clear for animated GIFs, with efficient streaming video content able to act and behave just like a normal image, with autoplay. iOS 10 users of sites like Imgur will be very happy with this change for example.

You can see a live example from WebKit above: on iOS 9, this GIF will not start animating until a play button is pressed. On iOS 10, it plays as soon as it is visible and looks just like a normal image … even though it’s really a looping video behind the scenes. The new policy will also benefit web apps like Vine or Facebook where autoplaying videos on iOS is now a possibility, as long as the audio is silenced until a user taps on it. Details about the technical implementation of the new feature can be found on the WebKit blog.

Outside of the browser, GIFs are an integral part of the iOS 10 Messages app too with a new ‘#images’ iMessage app included by default in the operating system. Users can search for animated GIFs to send into their conversations and the app will even suggest relevant images based on the current messages in the thread. iMessage stickers can also be animated so expect a lot of ‘animated GIF’-esque stickers from various developers once the iMessage App Store goes live.

iOS 10 is expected to launch to the public in September; developers are currently running the third beta seed. iOS 10 will ship on the new iPhone 7 as standard; both the new hardware and software will be publicly launched at a media event in September.

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Avatar for Benjamin Mayo Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.