In an odd turn of events, iPhone users have found out that they are getting full quality unlimited storage in Google Photos for free. This applies to all iPhones and iPads, as they capture and store photos in HEIC format, which is already compressed and bypasses Google Photos' compression algorithm. It is ironic since Google's own new smartphone, Pixel 4, will not get unlimited storage in Google Photos at full quality, which was a hallmark feature of previous Pixel phones.
With the release of iOS 11, Apple moved from the old school JPEG format to HEIC (High-Efficiency Image File Format). As the format name suggests, this results in lower file size for photos, while keeping the same quality as before. Apple maintained support for the old JPEG format, by allowing users to switch to it as its compatible with a wider range of devices and platforms. However, the default photo capture format was switched to HEIC.
How does this switch impact Google Photos? HEIC is already efficient enough that if Google tries to process it, it will result in a larger file size JPEG. Therefore, the Google Photos app skips the compression process for HEIC photos and stores them as they are. Although Apple also uses HEVC for video compression, Google Photos still compresses the videos before upload.
This tidbit was spotted by Reddit user stephenvsawyer:
With all modern iPhones shooting photos in HEIC format, which is smaller than even Googles compressed JPG files, iPhones therefore get free unlimited ORIGINAL quality backups simply because it would cost Google both storage space (because if Google tried to compress iPhones HEIC photos they would actually become larger) and computing power (because Google doesn’t need to compress and process all of the billions of photos iPhones backup.)
So Apple is literally saving Google millions of dollars by shooting their photos in HEIC and it benefits iPhone users as well because we get free original quality backups.
It is important to note that Apple only provides 5GB free storage with iCloud for each Apple ID. If you have multiple Apple devices, and do not want to pay for additional storage, you are likely to end up in a tough spot since that 5GB storage has to back up the whole device, Files app, Photos, Videos and more.
On the other hand, it is strange that Google decided that Pixel 4 users will not get free unlimited photo uploads at original quality. When you consider the fact that Pixel 4 is only available in 64GB and 128GB storage options, this raises even more questions on smartphone's value. Let us not forget that Pixel 4 will also not include headphones or a 3.5mm dongle in the box. Even Pixel 4's Face Unlock is not safe, which was highly touted by Google as being the 'fastest' in the industry.