Dev Depot: Replace Flash Previews With Mobile-friendly Gifs

Stephen Yagielowicz

Originally introduced by CompuServe in 1987, the graphics interchange format (GIF) is one of the most widely used bitmap image types on the Internet, offering true cross-browser and cross-platform compatibility, small file sizes and robust support for animations and transparency. It is also “safe” to use from an intellectual property perspective, as unlike newer technologies such as Adobe’s Flash, all of the relevant patents surrounding GIF have expired, making this format easy and free to work with.

According to Wikipedia, while the GIF format can support 24-bit color, this usage is considered bad practice and can cause unpredictable results and large image sizes, leaving 8 bits per pixel as the most common implementation, allowing a single image “to reference a palette of up to 256 distinct colors chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space.” When generating animations, each frame is able to utilize a separate palette of up to 256 colors for a smoother appearance.

Given the perennial popularity of animated GIFs, evidenced by recent adult site launches specializing in this time-honored format, developers are giving GIFs a second look.

The online encyclopedia notes that although GIF images employ LZW lossless data compression to reduce file sizes without degrading the image’s visual quality, its limited color depth make it unsuitable for reproducing color photographs and other images with continuous color, but make it ideal for simpler images such as graphics or logos with solid areas of color.

Like its more modern counterpart, the 24-bit Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format, GIFs find their way into website and mobile app designs, often combined into a single, library image known as a sprite, with accompanying CSS code to specify an individual graphic’s location on the sprite for display.

One application for animated GIFs is to replace Flash video clips used for promotional purposes on iOS devices such as Apple’s popular iPhone and iPad, which are not compatible with Flash technology.

While the quality is not comparable to true video and thus unsuitable for converting full-length clips for final display, it may be ideal for small, looping animations used as teaser clips promoting the video — all you will need is a dedicated solution for turning image files and video clips into animated GIFs.

One alternative is Gif.js (jnordberg.github.io/gif.js), an offering by coder Johan Nordberg that serves as a fully featured JavaScript based GIF encoder that runs in the user’s browser.

Gif.js works across a variety of browsers that support Web Workers, file APIs and typed arrays, including Google Chrome, Firefox 17, Internet Explorer 10, Safari 6 and Mobile Safari 6 for iOS devices.

The Gif.js system uses these typed arrays and web workers to render each frame in the background with the fastest speeds possible.

Although Gif.js is not a “plug and play” application and requires some coding skills to implement it, the possibilities it presents may hold appeal for many adult webmasters who are seeking a framework for developing animated GIFs, and more importantly (or usefully), converting videos to animated GIFs.

Given the perennial popularity of animated GIFs, evidenced by recent adult site launches specializing in this time-honored format, developers are giving GIFs a second look. Perhaps Gif.js will find a place in your future development plans.

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