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New formats from Apple: evolution or revolution?

At WWDC 2017, at which the presentation of innovations from Apple took place, absolutely new formats of photo (High Efficiency Image Format) and video (High Efficiency Video Coding) compression presented within the framework of iOS 11 were completely undeservedly ignored. According to Apple’s description, with identical quality of photos and videos of new formats will occupy less by half of  the space compared to the previous formats.


At the moment JPEG is a common image format for 25 years, however, times are changing. Some large companies, such as the Google, are working on its replacement, trying to offer a new compression format that allows files take up less space, while maintaining image quality. The novelty from Apple is just one of such formats. The HEIF format will provide the ability to store images without losing quality, but taking up to 50% less space on the storage. In addition, HEIF supports 10-bit color depth, as well as a wider color gamut, while the standard JPEG basically supports 8-bit format. Therefore, this will best affect the photos, which use a soft transition of hues (for example, the sky). With HEIF, the “ladder” in the gradient will no longer appear. This opens up more possibilities for photo processing.

It is important to note that the new format analyzes the image on the received photo. Thus, reducing the file size will depend on the number of small details in the picture. The less of them, the less space HEIF takes. And vice versa – up to the size of JPEG. In addition, HEIF also supports a series of images, animations, built-in HDR metadata, a depth-of-image map and so on. Thus, now the advantage of JPEG is compatibility, whereas HEIF can counteract it with greater efficiency.

HEIF will be converted to JPEG for compatibility

It’s sad that only iPhone X, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, 10.5-inch iPad Pro, 12.9-inch iPad Pro (second generation and newer) devices can take and store photos and videos in HEIF and HEVC formats. This, incidentally, gives reason to assume that by the time of the presentation of the iPhone 7, Apple had developed a more powerful hardware that was necessary for the new format and, perhaps, tested these updates on it.

Therefore, Apple specialists took care of the owners of other devices that do not support innovations. Initially, users will not need to wonder where to get the HEIF converter or how to open the HEIF-format. When exporting to devices or applications that do not support the new encoding method, the files will be automatically converted.

What is the advantage of HEVC over H.264?

As with HEIF, the main difference between HEVC and H.264 is improved compression. The H.265 video stream has a bit less bitrate than the stream that is compressed by the H.264 codec. The quality of the flow is identical.

The revolution from Apple?

iPhone camera is the most popular in the world according to Flickr statistics. Therefore, with such innovation, Apple will precisely kill JPEG. But this is not bad actually. The fact is that the first summary versions of HEVC and HEIF were presented by the Moving Picture Experts Group and the CCTVT video encoding team back in 2013. The technical development of format specifications took about one and a half years and was completed in the summer of 2015. Probably, even then, Apple took the format to work, after all, not the least role in the implementation of HEIF is played by LIVE-photos, on which Apple focuses users. They first appeared in 2015 in the iPhone 6s – just then HEIF took place as a format. Probably,  Apple created LIVE-photos with a view to the new format, which should have been stored in HEIF. In other words, Apple has nothing to do with the development of image formats and video of the new generation. However, thanks to Apple, the use of these formats will become massive.

All of us will definitely see the benefits of HEIF. Pictures on iCloud and Google Drive will take much less space, so we can store more files and get much faster access to them. But this is not the most important thing, because with the spread of HEIF, the speed of the entire modern Internet will also increase.

And here it is very important to remember that HEIF is a format that does not belong to Apple. Therefore, other companies can go to it in the near future: Google, Samsung and so on – the more followers, the sooner the revolution will happen.

As a result, with the introduction of HEIF, ordinary users will only benefit – this is an excellent heir for JPEG. The only issue in the format support for device manufacturers and developers – the relevance of them depends not least.

In general, HEIF does seem to be an extremely promising format that can save a lot of space on devices. While it is supported only by Apple devices and a small number of applications. If Apple manages to motivate others to switch to this format, then this will be a really big breakthrough for both producers and users.