Google Photos format loophole seems to give iPhone free unlimited storage for orig. quality photos, Pixel 4 left behind

One of the unique selling points for the Pixel smartphone lineup over the last few years has been free unlimited storage of original quality pictures with Google Photos. However, that changed with the Pixel 4 that was announced this week which won’t see that benefit. In an ironic twist, it appears that iPhones will have access to free unlimited storage of original quality photos with Google’s service due to a format loophole.

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Update 10/21: Google has called this loophole a bug and plans to “fix it.”

As discovered by Reddit user stephenvsawyer, it seems like iPhone users who use the default setting to have photos saved as HEIC/HEIF will get free unlimited storage of their pictures at the original resolution with Google Photos because if Google tried to compress them, it would actually increase the file size.

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.

Notably, the original Pixel through Pixel 3 owners get this benefit for life but the just-announced Pixel 4 will lack the benefit with the unlimited free photo storage offered at the lower – and compressed – “high quality” resolution.

We were able to confirm there’s currently no option on the Pixel 4 to save photos in HEIC/HEIF to take advantage of the same trick as iPhone. However, Android 10 technically supports the feature, so it could come at some point for Pixel 4 owners (there is the option to save videos in HEVC but that doesn’t change the free unlimited storage of original quality photos).

Another important note, this loophole just applies to photos, as all videos are saved at a 1080p resolution.

Google Photos is a free download from the App Store.

If you want to double-check that you’re iPhone is set to HEIC/HEIF head to Settings > Camera > Formats and make sure “High Efficiency” is selected.

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Avatar for Michael Potuck Michael Potuck

Michael is an editor for 9to5Mac. Since joining in 2016 he has written more than 3,000 articles including breaking news, reviews, and detailed comparisons and tutorials.