Google Photos on iPhone

What you need to know

  • It was found that iPhone owners had unlimited original quality photo storage.
  • Google now says that was a bug, rather than a feature.
  • It's working to fix it, too.

Sometimes bugs happen. And sometimes those bugs give millions of iPhone owners the chance to upload original quality images to Google Photos for free. But bugs don't usually live forever and Google has confirmed that it's working to squash this one.

One Redditor noticed last week that the iPhone camera app's use of HEIC files meant that the Google Photos app thought they were already compressed. As a result they were uploaded and classed as a free "High Quality" image. But they were actually the "Original" quality that people would normally need to pay for.

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.

Unfortuantely for iPhone owners, none of that was by design and now Google has confirmed to Android Authority that this is a bug and not expected behavoir. "We are aware of this bug and are working to fix it," the company said.

Presumably that fix will also be retrospective, informing iPhone owners who already have photos uploaded that they'll need to pay up. Or else.

It's notable that recent Android phones also support HEIC image capture, so it's likely Google will want to close this loophole for any phone that could have taken advantage of it, too.