Autoplay is still bad for all users

Just over three years ago I wrote an article called Autoplay is bad for all users. It was written a few months after WCAG 2 became a formal recommendation but before HTML5, particular the video element, had really gone into mass production.

Much, if not all, of that article still holds true today but there are a couple of points to add to it.

HTML5 Video

The new HTML5 specification includes the autoplay attribute along with the following provisions:

Authors are urged to use the autoplay attribute rather than using script to trigger automatic playback, as this allows the user to override the automatic playback when it is not desired, e.g. when using a screen reader.

HTML living standard – The video tag

This is the one advantage to autoplay being included in the spec. If authors must automatically play video this provides a relatively easy way for the user to disable that functionality.

Authors are also encouraged to consider not using the automatic playback behavior at all, and instead to let the user agent wait for the user to start playback explicitly.

HTML living standard – The video tag

This is great! However, in the spec it isn’t a separate guideline so I don’t imagine it will be seen by the majority.

Apple and autoplay

Apple has made the decision to disable the automatic playing of video on iOS devices, through both script and attribute implementations:

In Safari on iOS (for all devices, including iPad), where the user may be on a cellular network and be charged per data unit, preload and autoplay are disabled. No data is loaded until the user initiates it.

Safari HTML5 audio and video guide


…autoplay is disabled to prevent unsolicited cellular download.

Safari HTML5 audio and video guide

Autoplay on mobile devices

Apple aren’t the only company to make the decision to disable automatic playing of video, as far as I can tell, all of the most modern mobile devices ignore the autoplay attribute which can only be a step in the right direction for accessibility.

Autoplay advice

To summarise, I’ll repeat the conclusion from my previous post:

  • Only automatically play video if the clip lasts for five seconds or fewer (‘Five seconds’ relates to the timing mentioned in the success criterion for Moving, blinking, scrolling).
  • If the clip lasts for more than five seconds, you must provide the user with the option to stop or pause it.
  • Automatic playback is generally acceptable if the user was aware, when they clicked the link, that the proceeding page was going to play a clip.

14 comments on “Autoplay is still bad for all users”

  1. Hi Emma,

    I have a request from a potential customer where he wants a timelapse scenic video with no sound as the header on the home page.

    Any thoughts on whether the no audio aspect mitigates some of the broader objections (aside from the IOS constraints).



  2. @Mick – Obviously best practice is not to autoplay. I’d say as long as you add the ability to pause the video, probably as a focusable link (via keyboard), then you’ll be ok.

  3. On my 3rd-gen iPad running IOS 6, autoplay of HTML5 tags has suddenly begun working! (I’ve had IOS 6 installed for a couple of weeks, and am pretty sure I tested this feature right away, but only noticed it working tonight.) I don’t recall seeing any notice of this from Apple, although I did see that mobile Safari had been granted the ability to support file uploads via
    form input type=”file”
    — another feature I needed but which Apple had withheld.

  4. Ummm without autoplay html5 game and app developers are stifled!

    In iOS6 autoplay was enabled and thus we were able to make the first online alarm clock for the mobile web. Specifically iPhone Safari, though now that Apple forces the user to initiate audio well an online alarm clock is pointless as the user needs to wake up to the sound that is autoplayed at alarm time.

    Further, tons of great html5 games could be made and become popular if autoplay was enabled.

    Indeed it is horrible for any developer to set their video or audio to autoplay, as the days of MySpace are behind us and if your a dev programming likes its 2004 well then your just stupid!

    Overall Apple’s limiting of html5 audio capabilities just hurts the standard and keeps us developers locked into their app store; build and deployed apps there and not for the mobile web, which for the most part when you develop for the web it works BOOM in all platforms.

    ARRGGGH Apple!!!

  5. I love autoplay and so do the majority of the net. Your out of touch is the real issue here. I wonder how old are you? Please be careful because I feel your net days are coming to an end.. maybe a nursing home is more appropriate with a nice comfy rocking chair?

  6. I think few things are more obnoxious to my internet browsing experience than video/audio autoplay and I am in my 20’s.

    I often have music playing on the computer while I browse, autoplayed sound doesn’t make me resolve the clash of sounds or awkwardness of it at the coffee shop by any other method than trying to pinpoint the tab that caused it and closing it as fast as possible.

    If someone wants me to watch a website video, he or she needs to make it seem like it has something of value to me and give me to time to adjust my volume settings, put on headphones, etc.

  7. Autoplay background video on a desktop version of a site is just freakin fine, you don’t need a pause button either. If someone doesn’t know where to click or scroll within 5-10 seconds, it’s not the video….it’s the navigation and copy combination that is killing the experience. It’s just a graphical element.

    It’s an engaging way to tell a story fast without the user reading anything…and become interested in what you might have to offer.

    If a video that distracts text for a few milliseconds is a user experience nightmare, every TV commercial almost ever produced should reconsider if video and text belong together, or you could write a blog about adding a simple CSS shadow to the text will make readable across the board – a trick video editors have used since, ever.

    Yeah some people do it really wrong, but I’m sure most of their designs/decisions aren’t the most tasteful with video or not…don’t use that as reason to discourage the exploration of video in sites.

    Most respectable designers all do it well.

    I find a site with good background autoplay video less offensive than a site with slider or homepage full of generic stock imagery. Even if the video is a generic loop of clouds.

    And mobile disabling of auotplay is not a valid reason either – that’s just to protect user’s data, not their user experience. My responsive sites pull out all sliders, auotplays for that very reason.

  8. “It’s an engaging way to tell a story fast without the user reading anything”

    I can read far faster than any video can play content. Mainly because people who make videos are overblown windbags who love to hear themselves speak.

    “…and become interested in what you might have to offer.”

    Ahhh, the problem outs itself. Marketing. The return of the flashing, annoying automated ad, simply in a different medium.

    I click AWAY from any sites that have autoplay ad crappola. I will NEVER buy off of anything autoplay and judging by then number of results returned when searching how to turn this crap off, many other people feel the same way.

  9. No, Dan, it’s not “just freaking fine” on desktop browsers. Many of us have reasons to not want your g*dd*mn video to start playing on its own. Personally, my bandwidth is narrow enough that simple browsing can be painfully slow even before you start trying to shove full-motion video through it. (And no, there is no better provider in my area.)

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