In iOS 11 Apple has switched to the HEIC file format for photos to keep down file sizes. Google is also rumoured to add the format to upcoming Android P. That's fine for mobile users, but Windows doesn’t support HEIC (for now). Fortunately there is a simple workaround for PC users, enabling them to open HEIC files on their computer.
It's worth pointing out that Windows will be getting HEIC file support in the near future, so the below walkthrough is just a temporary measure. Build 17623 introduces HEIC file support to the operating system, and Windows Insiders already have access provided they have joined the Windows App Preview Program for the Photos app and are running the March release of the Photos app (version 2018.18022.13740.0 or later).
We don't yet know when this update will be added to consumer versions of the software.
What is an HEIC file?
If you copy photos from a recent iPhone or iPad to a PC or laptop, chances are you’ll see a lot of strange HEIC files:
HEIC is the new file type for photos in iOS 11. That's for iPhones and iPads with an A9 processor or newer, so iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, iPad Pro models and the recent 2017 iPad 9.7.
HEIC is another name for HEIF, which is short for High Efficiency Image Format. It’s the still image version of HEVC, which is the latest video codec.
It was developed by MPEG – not Apple - so it's not Apple trying to do its own proprietary thing. In fact, HEIC could very well usurp the established (but old and flawed) JPG format.
Essentially, there are lots of benefits of using HEIF, even if it is a bit confusing that the file is called HEIC rather than HEIF on Apple devices.
Here’s why HEIC files are great:
- Around half the size of JPG for the same quality
- Can store multiple photos in one file (ideal for Live Photos and bursts)
- Supports transparency like GIF files
- Can store image edits, such as cropping and rotating so you can undo them
- Support 16-bit colour vs JPG’s 8-bit
Live Photos, just in case you weren't aware, are photos with a twist: when you long press (or deep press on a 3D Touch screen) the photo comes alive and plays as a short video.
Interestingly, Google is working on an image format that shrinks file sizes an extra 15 percent over HEIC.
How can I open an HEIC file?
In Windows, you can’t. Double-click on an .heic file in Windows 10 and you'll see the prompt below.
Right now, we don’t know of any photo editor that supports the files (Photoshop doesn’t, and there aren't yet any plug-ins). Windows’ own Photos app doesn’t recognise them either.
If you download iMazing converter, you'll get a small app which lets you drag and drop files and choose whether to convert them to JPG or PNG, as well as the output folder.
If you prefer not to install an app, use HEIC to JPG online. Simply browse to the site and drag and drop up to 30 HEIC files.
They’ll be automatically optimised and converted, but you have to download each one individually, which is a bit of a pain.
I don’t want to convert HEIC files!
No problem. As long as you still have the photos on your iPhone or iPad, you can select and share them via email or upload to a cloud storage service.
When you do this they’ll be converted to JPEGs automatically. When you choose to share via Mail you'll get to choose which size - always go for the original (maximum) file size if you want to retain the best quality.
And if you choose a cloud provider such as Google drive, you should see that the files will be saved with a .jpeg extension.
There’s a third method, too. You can upload HEIC files to your Dropbox folder from your phone or your PC. Dropbox supports .heic already (along with HEVC videos) so you can view and share the photos using your Dropbox account.
How can I stop my iPhone saving photos in HEIC format?
Open the Settings app and scroll down until you see Camera. Tap it and then tap on Formats.
You'll see this screen, and you need to change it from High Efficiency to Most Compatible:
You might like to read our tips for taking better photos with your iPhone.