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What is HEIF?

Martyn Casserly | June 27, 2017
In iOS 11 Apple is replacing the JPEG image format with the new HEIF alternative. So what is HEIF, and how will it benefit iPhone users?

picture on iphone

In the upcoming iOS 11 update, Apple has announced that it will be replacing JPEG files with a new image format called HEIF. So, why leave behind the industry standard of JPEGs, and what does HEIF have to offer? We investigate.

 

What is HEIF?

HEIF stands for High Efficiency Image Format. As the name suggests, it's a more streamlined way to store image files. Using advanced, modern compression methods it allows digital photographs to be created in smaller files sizes, all while retaining higher image quality than its JPEG alternative.

HEIF is based on the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Compression) or H.265 video format already used on newer iPhones. HEIF isn't actually an Apple invention at all, but was developed by the MPEG group that was also responsible for the AAC format used in iTunes.

Technically, HEIF isn't really a format as such, more of a container for images and audio. The way Apple has outlined its use will be to store still images encoded with the HVEC (H.265) video format. This will work particularly well with Live Photos, as multiple images can be saved in the HEIF container. The same should also be true for dual camera images captured on the iPhone 7 Plus and the rumoured iPhone 8.

 

What advantages does HEIF have over JPEG?

While JPEGs have been the faithful standard of online images for a quarter of a century, times have moved on. Replacing the ageing format with HEIF will mean that capturing photographs on iPhone or iPads will now take up a lot less of the inbuilt storage.

This is good news, as the increasing quality of images and videos (with 4K video now becoming almost standard) means that users are constantly having to watch how much space is left on their devices. Apple's adoption of HEIF should go a long way to alleviating this issue.

This reduction is down to the compression techniques employed by HEIF. In fact, the MPEG group claims that twice as much information can be stored in a HEIF image as a JPEG one of the same size.

So, presumably users will be offered the ability to store similar-quality images to the ones they're already accustomed to, but in half the space. Alternatively, they could opt for higher-res files at the same size as their current JPEGs.

The fact that HEIF also supports 10-bit deep colour images will come as a blessed relief for iPhoneographers who have seen those mystical sunset images compromised by ugly banding caused by the 8 bits currently on offer.

 

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