The September release of Apple’s new iOS11 brings with it a new default stills file format – HEIF or High Efficiency Image Format. It’s claimed to do the compression that JPEG does in half the file size. Or alternatively, doubles the quality at the same file size.
HEIF is based on the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Compression) or H.265 video format developed by the MPEG group. It basically grabs stills from H.265 video – which suits Apple’s Live Images feature down to the ground. Photographers will be happy that it also supports 10-bit deep colour images for improved quality.
Apple’s typical arrogance in making this change without giving software developers and printer manufactures an opportunity to come up to speed on the new file format leaves a lot of compatibility questions unanswerable at the moment.
Apple seems to have overlooked the implications for hard copy output altogether, except to say that it recognises if a connected device can handle HEIF and if not renders the HEIF files as JPEGs. Well, maybe. iOS11 is back-compatible with a shedload of Apple iPhones and iPads, so the use of HEIF will quickly become widespread.
ProCounter put a series of questions to Epson about how its printing technology will deal with HEIF files (the file extension is actually .heic) about a week ago and the technical people seem unable to respond. A leading US minilab kiosk software developer we spoke to this week told ProCounter Apple’s move to the new format has the potential to decimate that business – it’s doubtful a cable connection will enable the conversion from HEIF to JPEG to take place.
HEIF also heavily weighed down by patents – fine for Apple but legally and financially dangerous for less resourced developers to tangle with.
JPEG is a technology from the ’90s and HEIF has a lot going for it, but right now it comes with a lot of known and unknown unknowns – if you don’t happen to be Apple.