What Are HEIF and HEIC and Why Is Apple Using Them?

HEIF is a better file image format in every way

Apple
New Loop and Bounce effects make every photo more expressive. Apple PR

In 2017, Apple adopted a new image format called High Efficiency Image Format (HEIF) as a replacement for the JPEG format on iOS and macOS computers. HEIF is a format for both single images and image sequences. Apple uses the High Efficiency Image Container (HEIC) concept, which uses advanced compression techniques to generate files with high image quality and smaller size than the JPEG alternative.

HEIC is the format name Apple selected for the new HEIF standards, but HEIC isn't solely a format; it is a container for images, audio, and other information.

Images Before HEIF

Developed in 1992, the JPEG format was a great success for what it was, but it was built at a time when computers weren’t as capable as they are now.

HEIF is based on advanced High Efficiency Video Compression (HVEC), also known as H.265, which was developed by the Motion Picture Experts Group. HEIC was developed by the group that developed the AAC format for iTunes.

How HEIF Applies to You

The camera in the iPhone can capture 10-bit color information, but the JPEG format can only capture color in 8-bit. The HEIF format supports transparency and can handle images in 16-bit deep color. And get this: The HEIF image is about 50 percent smaller than the same image saved in JPEG format. That compressed image means you can store twice as many images on your iPhone or other iOS device as you could with the JPEG format.

Another big advantage is that HEIF carries lots of different kinds of information.

While JPEG carries the data that comprises a single image, HEIF can carry both single images and sequences of them. Because it acts as a container, it can hold multiple images, audio, depth of field information, image thumbnails, and other information.

How Can Apple Use HEIC?

This use of HEIC as a container for images, videos, and image-related information means Apple can think about doing much more with iOS cameras and images.

Apple’s iPhone Portrait Mode is a good example of how the company works with this new format. Portrait Mode captures multiple versions of an image and stitches them together to create much better portraits at a much higher quality than a JPEG image offers.

The capacity to carry depth of field information inside the HEIC image container enables Apple to use the compressed format as part of augmented reality technologies.

"The line between photos and videos is blurred, and a lot of what we capture is a combination of both of these assets," said Apple’s VP Software, Sebastien Marineau.

Currently, there are problems opening HEIC files on Windows computers. The Windows Photo app doesn't recognize them. Although there are no HEIC photo editors for Windows, that is bound to change in the near future. In the meantime, there are apps that convert HEIC files to JPEG format, including iMazing 2.

How Do HEIF and HEIC Work?

Mac and iOS users running the current iOS and macOS operating systems have been moved to the new image format automatically, but only the images they capture after they upgrade are stored in this new format.

When it comes to sharing images with non-Apple device users, Apple’s devices convert HEIF pictures into JPEGs. You won't notice this transcoding take place because Apple included the HVEC video standard inside iPhone and iPad hardware when it first introduced those products. IPads and iPhones can encode and decode images in the video format almost instantly. It is the same when handling HEIC.

When you email an image, attach an image to a message, or work on it in an app that doesn’t offer HEIF support, your device quietly converts it to JPEG in real time.

Want to Skip HEIF and HEIC?

If you don't want to play in the world of high efficiency, you can change the default format that your iPhone uses:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap Formats
  3. Tap Most Compatible