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Apple releases an all new image format for iOS

By Sheetika Tandon

Since its creation in 1992, the JPEG image format has amassed a niche for itself and a quarter century later, it continues to serve as the reigning king of image formats worldwide. However, at its WWDC programmer conference, Apple announced that in its upcoming iOS 11 update, it seeks to replace JPEG files with a new image format called HEIF that stands for High-Efficiency Image Format. This new format would be supported on iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

What is HEIF?

The image format provides a more streamlined way to store images. It needs only half the space as compared to a JPEG image of the same quality. Along with this, HEIF is capable of storing depth maps that record the distance between various elements of the scene from the camera that captures it. This would enable users to do their own creative effects while simultaneously providing the base for augmented reality which overlays digital imagery over a real-world scene.

HEIF makes use of HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding), a video compression technology designed by the Motion Picture Experts Group. Most of the video streaming on smartphones or PC’s make use of this video compression technique. The concept behind HEIF is that it compresses individual frames of an HEVC video.

Contrary to the JPEG pattern that breaks up an image into blocks which are further compressed with a suitable combination of matrix and trigonometry mathematics, the HEIF compares these blocks and records just the difference in the case of two similar blocks. This way, the storage space consumed is far less which enables you to squeeze more photos on your phone. Live photos are most suitable for this considering multiple images can be saved in the HEIF container.

How is HEIF superior to JPEG?

HEIFs limited space consuming technology means photographs captured with iPhone or iPad will now take up a lot less storage than before. This is certainly a welcome surprise, keeping in mind the rapidly advancing image and video qualities which raise repeated problems about insufficient storage on devices. Apple’s adoption of HEIF is expected to alleviate this issue to a great extent.

Another comparable aspect of the HEIF is that it is more like a container for files rather than being a single image like the JPEG. This makes it capable of containing Apple’s Live Photos besides serving as a potential replacement for GIFs as well.  Along with this, HEIF will have improved editing tools which would make sure that users embrace it even further.

HEIF supports transparency and image colour up to 16-bits as opposed to the 8-bit colour of JPEG. Practically this means that HEIF is capable of capturing the extended colour set provided by the 10-bit colour output of the cameras. Thus, no more will you encounter ugly banding across blue skies caused by the current 8-bit format.

What lies in store for the new technology?

There seems to exist a good chance that HEIF will make a serious impact considering the fact that Apple is endorsing it. However, there exist certain compatibility issues since most devices and programs today do not recognise the HEIF format. Therefore, to share images with non-iPhone users, iOS 11 will have to convert HEIF images to JPEG format. Another problem is the expensive patent licensing concerns shadowing the HEVC video format which forms the foundation of HEIF.

In these changing times, where the virtual is slowly overtaking the real, Apple overcoming the roadblocks in the way could entail massive benefits for users around the globe.


Featured image source: Tech Advisor

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