Thoughts on Apple, WebRTC, HTML5, H.265 and VP9

September 17, 2015

There are a few side stories around Apple lately that relate to WebRTC. I wanted to share them here.

Thoughts about Apple

Apple TV ships with no HTML5 support

It seems that in the Apple TV reboot, there are going to be apps. But not ones that can make use of HTML5. Just native apps. John Gruber points to a post around that topic titled Everything but the Web, concluding that Web views won’t find their way to the TV screen if Apple has anything to do with it.

He doesn’t state the reason though. If you ask me, this has nothing to do to the Apple/Flash war of the past. It also has nothing to do with design or aesthetics. It has anything to do with ecosystem control. For Apple, the ability of cross platform development is an aberration. Why on earth enable developers to write their code once and then run it elsewhere? There’s nothing outside the closed garden of Apple, so why bother?

Killing HTML5 in Mac is impossible. Killing it on the iPhone or iPad is also rather hard – too many apps already use it, and there’s that pesky browser people use. But on the TV? That’s greenfield! So why not just forget about HTML5 altogether?

If you ask me, the good people in Apple see only one reason for HTML5 to exist – and that is for people to be able to go to website. Other than that? Useless.

The future of WebKit

There have been a lot of back and forth lately about the future of the web. Should we run full steam ahead with it or sit and wait. People prefer having it change and progress less. I can’t see why – when every year thousands of new APIs are rained at us by Apple and WWDC and Google at I/O – why can’t the Web improve? Why should it stay static?

WebKit, on the other had, is a rather dead rendering engine at this point in time. It might be fast and optimized, but it is becoming a bit old when it comes to adopting and supporting standards. WebRTC isn’t there, but multiple other technologies aren’t either. It seems to be keeping up with the HTML5 and CSS notation, but the programmatic parts of JavaScript? Falling behind the other browsers.

I’ve written before on how Microsoft Edge is getting way better. Mozilla is getting their act together and modernizing the older parts of their Firefox browser (extensions for example) and Google are speeding up and optimizing Chrome now that it has become huge. But Safari? Microsoft Edge will keep Google and Mozilla on edge and get them to improve. I don’t think the other browser vendors care too much about Safari getting too good anytime soon.

I wonder how much care and affection the Safari/WebKit team gets inside Apple these days. Probably not that much.

This goes somewhat counter intuitive to the positive assertions Alex made here about Apple and WebRTC.

H.265 / VP9

Apple and H.265 take center stage in my video codec sessions lately. You can see the video codec wars session I gave at TokBox last week.

My usual spiel?

  • Apple is a part of MPEG-LA
  • Apple owns H.265 related patents. It may well wish to enforce them to make it difficult on others
  • Apple builds hardware, so changing a video codec isn’t an easy feat – it requires time and getting old hardware off the market
  • Apple has H.265 running on FaceTime in iPhone 5
  • So Apple is on the H.265 camp

But then I get directed to this interesting post in 9to5Mac:

Another interesting detail: 4K videos are being recorded in H.264, and Apple is no longer making reference to H.265 support for any purpose, FaceTime or otherwise


Is it only me or did Apple just drop H.265 support and is shifting camps? Or at the very least, sitting on the fence. It might have something to do with the HEVC Advance stupidity that brought the gang to open up the Alliance of Open Media. They might be edging away from royalty bearing codecs and moving to the free alternative. Or they might try using it as leverage over HEVC Advance to make their licensing terms more palatable.

How do you do 4K video resolutions with a camera if not by using H.265? Use H.264? Ridiculous. But that’s exactly what seems to be happening now for the new iPhone 6.

Should they be moving to VP9 instead? Probably, but it will be hard on Apple. They rely heavily on hardware acceleration and they don’t seem to have it on their chipsets at the moment.

This is a loss to the H.26x camp at the moment.

Where is this all headed?

I am not sure, but here are a couple of things I’d plan if I had that task given to me.

  • Rely on native development on mobile. Especially when it comes to anything Apple
  • Use HTML5 for browser development. Wrap it using Chrome Embedded Framework if a standalone desktop app (using Electron) is needed
  • Tread carefully in what I end up using on for my video codec. No simple answers there
  • Read this article – AV1 vs HEVC: Are the WebRTC codec wars back?

So… which of these video codecs should you use in your application? Here’s a free mini video course to help you decide.

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  1. > “WebKit, on the other had, is a rather dead rendering engine at this point in time. It might be fast and optimized, but it is becoming a bit old when it comes to adopting and supporting standards.”

    I find the opposite to be true. WebKit has recently improved quite a bit. They have a revamped Twitter account where they share what they’re working on. Among other things, Shadow DOM and ECMAScript 6. Just today, an Apple engineer has asked on Twitter what they should be focusing on regarding SVG.

    1. I agree. Its also notable that Apple released CloudKit for JS in this year’s WWDC ( I see their investment into the web platform as slow and more discriminating. They seem to pick the parts of the web they care about and help them evolve (high density images for retina screens, touch events, icon formats), and leave the “costly” features that they would rather see thrive in native out of the picture.

      As a web developer and a user of Apple’s platforms, it makes me very sad. We, as developers, need to continue to push forward and let Apple and Safari know that if they don’t keep up, they will be left behind.

  2. I think this has everything to do with the Apple/Flash war of the past – that too was all about ecosystem control. How could you allow Flash games when you want to sell apps? You can’t.

    What is sad is that the whole smoke and mirrors about supporting web standards was a just that, a big lie. But Apple fanbois still cannot see through it, and even defend it.

    Flash aside, the fact that the web is being downgraded to a second class citizen by walled gardens is something we should all be concerned about.

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