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.

25 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.)

  10. I understand the rational and agree with it to a certain point but your scenario doesn’t factor in where the user clicked from to land on the page. If they clicked on a video thumbnail with a “play” icon and it also has a video length time indicator, then it is clear that clicking on this will play the video. So if a user clicks on it, I feel that the video can auto play on page load. That’s how YouTube behaves and I doubt that a Google owned site is not compliant. Could you please shed a light on this? Thanks.

  11. Hi @Nate – the last point in the post addresses what you’re asking:

    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.

  12. I think the title is wrong: it should read “Autoplay is still bad for some users” as we can see in this very same thread individuals from both categories: pro autoplay and against it.

    The solution is not to disable autoplay, but to make it an option that users can select in their browser. Those who like autoplay will enable it, those who don’t will disable it.

    Now, it seems that such option actually exists, at least on some browsers. Everybody’s happy then? No, because site designers can still bypass the user-selected option using JavaScript. (Before someone asks, yes, Youtube does it, too.)

    Sites using such a trick to circumvent the user’s explicit preference cannot claim good faith, legitimate use, great user experience, etc. They merely want to throw a video to the user whether he said he likes it or not.

    Just like ads on TV, like someone remarked. True, in fact we all love ads in TV, right? Especially when they are unexpected and unrelated (in style, volume, intended audience etc.) with the content that we are currently consuming!

  13. I tend to agree that autoplay is bad for some users, some of the time. I write interactive kiosk applications for the iPad and develop these as HTML5 apps that get pinned to the dashboard and ran during events.

    When the iPad is inactive for a period of time we wanted to have it load a looped video that clears once the user begins interaction but the ipad ignoring autoplay and javascript play instructions makes this impossible unless we write it as a native app, which is of course an additional cost to the client.

    I believe that we have a specification for a reason and as soon as different implementations decide to ignore aspects of that specification, the reason for it existing ceases to be valid.

    Sure allow the user to disable autoplay and make any page scripts aware of that decision, but make it something that can be enabled/disabled from the browsers settings rather than breaking the specification.

  14. We use autoplay for e-learning courses, but disable it automatically if someone is navigating the course via keyboard (i.e. screen reader users).

  15. I’m a game developer and this basically breaks our game. We end up having to display a big button that says “Enable Music”, because the Web Audio API which doesn’t have this restriction is bad for music (larger files).
    This crap, through and through.
    The implementation here is really bad.
    Autoplay should be allowed for video if the audio is muted (allows artsy backgrounds) and games should not be held back because some advertisements are dumb.
    There should be a popup saying “This website would like to auto-play audio: [Allow] [Disallow] / [X] remember”

  16. Good idea on the popup/option. That’s my biggest gripe in 2010’s technology. Remember back when users had options and preferences they could set?

    I think because everything has become server/cloud/web based, personalization has taken a back seat in most development. What’s so hard about building a browser that simply asks its user, “Do you want videos to autoplay or not?” and maybe a whitelist. Bam, done. :)

  17. Methinks enhanced tagging might be a worthwhile direction. For example,

    I’m sure the syntax & naming is wanting, but you get the idea.

    Let the game & webapp devs have their sensible way, and let those of us who hate tracking down whichever tab is clobbering our audio [silence|stream] have our way, too.

    Now to get this into some kind of steering committee ….

  18. Apple in a nutshell:
    1. Flash on mobile sucks, use HTML5 instead!
    2. Oh by the way we’re crippling HTML5 on mobile.

  19. Is there no way to disable auto play in the browser, especially on iOS. I want to choose if I want it or not. Normally I find it annoying when on a news site while listening to music. I’d use any browser capable of this.

  20. Here’s why autoplay is bad: I have my iTunes streaming to an Airplay receiver. Every web page I goto with these auto play seizes control of the audio away from the music I want to be listening to. It’s beyond irritating. And there seems to be no way to disable it on an iPad, contrary to the article, that I have found.

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