Facebook Testing HTML5 Video for iPad? Apparently Not [UPDATED]

A numberofbloggers are today reporting a noticeable change to Facebook’s website when viewed from the built-in Safari web browser on the Apple iPad: videos now work. Previously, videos appearing in a user’s News Feed wouldn’t play on the iPad due to Facebook’s use of Adobe Flash technology, which is not supported. Apple has, somewhat notoriously, banished Flash from its mobile devices, including the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, in favor of supporting the HTML5 web standard instead.

Although still in development, HTML5, the latest revision to the markup language used to create web pages, offers a feature that allows videos to play in a web browser without the need for a plugin like that used by Adobe Flash.

But has Facebook actually implemented HTML5 on its site?

UPDATE: According to Facebook, the company is not testing HTML5. Facebook told us in an email that, “All new videos are encoded in h264 format, so we’re playing videos natively in the iPad since it supports h264-encoded videos. It will load them full-screen, similar to what it does for YouTube videos.” Facebook rolled this out last week.

In our tests this morning, it appears that Facebook isn’t actually using HTML5 to display the videos. Instead, what appears to be going on is that Facebook.com is detecting that you’ve arrived to the website via the Safari web browser on the iPad. When you then attempt to play a video on the iPad, it doesn’t play inline (something that would have been a clear confirmation of an HTML5 implementation). Instead, Facebook is linking out to the actual video, transcoded to MP4, a video format that plays on Apple devices.

We confirmed this by uploading a video file to Facebook in WMV format (a non-iPad compatible video format) and then attempting to play it on the iPad. It played as an MP4 file.

Still Being Rolled Out

Also interesting: this implementation of transcoding (converting one format to another) appears to be still in the initial stages of rollout.

We went to one user’s News Feed (belonging to our own Marshall Kirkpatrick, in fact) and discovered he had uploaded two video files last night using iCamcorder. On the iPad, the earlier video played, launching as a full-screen MP4. The other, when clicked, informed us that we needed Flash in order to view it.

Both videos were uploaded around the exact same time last night – sometime after midnight EST and the newer one is the one that plays. We’ve asked Facebook to confirm what’s going on here but have not yet heard back.

Why Not HTML5?

It’s interesting that Facebook has chosen to do transcoding instead of a full HTML5 rollout, especially considering how many other major media sites are making the switch.

A number of publishers, when alerted to the iPad’s impending launch, quickly pushed out HTML5-compatible versions of their websites. In many cases though, those changes are just skin-deep. Despite Apple’s claims (via the “iPad-ready websites” section on the company’s website) that many major publishers have switched over to the new web markup language, it’s not an entirely accurate statement. For some of the sites listed, only portions of their content has been made “iPad-ready.” Reuters, Time and MLB.com, for instance, were recently called out for claiming iPad-readiness when, in fact, they don’t offer 100% of their website content for iPad visitors. MLB.com directs you to download an iPad app if you want to see videos, for example, while the other two only offer some of their content in an iPad-ready format.

Apparently, using HTML5 throughout the site isn’t required to be dubbed “iPad-ready” by Apple. Now it appears that Facebook is making changes to get on that list, too.

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