Google is fixing a 'bug' that gave iPhone users unlimited original quality Google Photos storage

Google Photos app on iPhone
Google Photos app on iPhone (Image credit: Google)

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, 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.

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

1 Comment
  • It's not really a loophole, let's be completely honest. The whole premise of this "free" service is that Google compresses your images to a file size at which that they can store them for a cost which can be subsidized by their other services. HEIC/HEIF stores these images at a lower size than what Google is using, so there was no bug, and no extra cost to Google here. This is just to make money, Google doesn't have the slogan "don't be evil" anymore for a reason