Google Photos giving iPhone unlimited storage at original quality while snubbing Pixel 4

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

What you need to know

  • iPhone owners can enjoy unlimited photo storage at full quality with Google Photos.
  • Pixel 4 owners are currently left without the benefit.
  • A high-efficiency file format that iPhone supports is the cause of the mishap.

A new finding shows that iPhone owners will enjoy unlimited storage of all of their photos at full quality on Google Photos, while Pixel 4 owners are being left without the benefit. Uncovered by Reddit user stephenvsawyer and reported by 9to5Mac, iPhone owners who use the default format for their photos (HEIC/HEIF) will create files that are actually smaller than the JPG files that Google compresses for photos taken with the Pixel.

"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."

When Google announced the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL on at its Made By Google event, it revealed that the phones will not receive unlimited photo storage at original quality like its predecessors. The original Pixel will still retain its lifetime of free full quality backup while the Pixel 2 and 3 are set to lose this benefit in 2021. At that time, those two models will join the Pixel 4 with unlimited storage at "high quality" and full quality will cost owners storage space.

While the Pixel 4 and 4XL currently do not have the option to save in the higher efficiency format, Android 10 does support it, so it could a matter of a software update to bring this much-loved benefit back to Pixel owners.

If you'd like to enjoy the benefit with Google Photos (opens in new tab) on your iPhone, check to make sure you have the correct photo format set by going to Settings > Camera > Formats and make sure High Efficiency is selected. On Google Photos go to Settings, Back up & Sync, Upload Size and select High Quality. Since HEIC is such a small file size, Google will not compress the photo even though Original Quality is not selected.

Keep in mind that this only applies to photos and videos will continue to be saved with Google in 1080p, so iCloud Photos is still the place to save your 4K videos.

Joe Wituschek
Contributor

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.

5 Comments
  • Google: Let's make a phone without the latest Snapdragon 855 plus, without a ultra-wide lens, no unlimited photo backup, a smaller battery than the previous phone and price it $100 more than the iPhone. Oh! And we'll give iPhone users unlimited backup of their original photos. #MadeByGoogle
  • Interesting. I wonder if this works on newer Samsung phones, as they also allow users to capture the images in HEIF?
  • Not sure but interested to know if you find out!
  • Doesn't give you free unlimited storage of original quality VIDEO though. Buy an OG Pixel, install ResilioSync, have it on ethernet because it won't get updates soon, then have your iPhone backup to the Pixel and the Pixel to GPhotos. The disclaimer for GPhotos backup says "original quality for photos and videos uploaded from the Pixel" not "taken by". Then just use Tasker to script the phone to auto "free up storage" after the photos are backed up.
  • Uh yea no. That’s literally too much.