What Is a HEIC File and What Is It Used For?

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What Is a HEIC File and What Is It Used For?

Have you ever AirDropped a photo from your iPhone to your MacBook and noticed it appeared in a weird file format? What in the world does “HEIC” mean? Why is it named on the photo instead of something more traditional like a JPG or TIFF? Don’t fear. There’s nothing wrong with your iPhone, your MacBook, or your photo itself. As it turns out, the HEIC format is perfectly normal and totally acceptable across a variety of technologies and software. Here’s what you need to know about this particular file format.

HEIC File Explained

convert HEIC to JPG
Apple officially started using HEICs in 2017.


HEIC images — or High-Efficiency Image Codec, as they’re technically known — are part of a much larger family known as HEIFs. Similarly, these are formally known as High Efficiency Image File Formats. There are many different kinds of HEIFs. HEICs are just one, and they pertain specifically to images. They’re comparable in quality to JPEGs, but they take up much less space on average. This is probably the most obvious reason they’re used in place of JPEGs today.

In more technical terms, HEICs — and HEIFs at large — are standardized container formats trusted for storing individual digital files. These particular standards cover everything from images to video to text files and beyond. If it’s a multimedia format, it likely has a standardization under the HEIF banner. Interestingly, HEICs can store both SDR and HDR images alike without loss of quality or dynamic range.

Each HEIF type has its own particular encoding format. For HEICs, that format is HEVC. HEVC is the default image codec for HEIFs, but it also covers video encoding as well. This is what HEIC files are: HEIF files containing HEVC-encoded images. HEIC files — and HEIF at large — were popularized after being embraced by Apple with the release of iOS 11 in 2017. However, the introduction of HEIFs actually dates back to 2015.

Uses for a HEIC File

Man holding iPhone in phone case with camera pointed at the sky.
iPhones and iPads use HEIC files for all photo types.

©Annette Shaff/Shutterstock.com

Now that you have a better grasp on the HEIC file type as well as what it means, let’s run through a few common uses for a HEIC file in your day-to-day. From technology to software to data and everything in between, the HEIC is a highly versatile and incredibly popular file type in our world today. Here are three common uses for high-efficiency image codecs in our daily lives.

iPhones and iPads

From HDR photos to live photos to camera bursts and beyond, the camera capabilities on your average iPhone are second to none. With so many different image types, however, Apple knew it couldn’t depend solely on the JPEG. For this reason, the tech company embraced the HEIC with iOS 11 in 2017. Now, Apple can turn any photo you take into a HEIC. It helps keep things organized while also keeping your storage space from filling up faster. The same thing goes for the iPad.

Graphic Design

Another great use for HEIC files is in the world of graphic design. This is also an area where the HEIC has a leg up over the JPEG. You see, JPEGs cannot support transparent backgrounds. HEIC can, though. These transparent backgrounds are essential in graphic design and logo work. PNGs and HEICs can both support transparent backgrounds whereas JPEGs can’t. Next time you’re working with transparent elements in an image design, turn to HEIC.


Another common use for HEICs? Storing photos on your hard drive. JPEGs take up much more space than your average HEIC for the same exact image dimensions. This is why it’s worth your while to convert images to the HEIC format when storing them. You’ll save space on your hard drive without having to reduce the image size or sacrifice any quality. Then, if you need a JPEG for any reason, you can simply convert the HEIC back to the other format.

HEIC File Variants

Video Editor Works with Footage on a Personal Computer in Creative Office Studio.
There are several other file types under the HEIF umbrella beyond HEICs — including ones for video.


As we mentioned above, the HEIC file is just one of several different HEIF types. High-Efficiency Image File Formats have at least five different variants in circulation today (including HEICs). Let’s briefly review four other variants below. These alternative formats take the same basic principles behind the HEIF and apply them to other file types and applications. After this, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of HIECs.


MIAFs — or Multi-Image Application Formats — fall under the MPEG-A specifications. This means they’re used to define any additional restrictions when simplifying HEIF formats. Essentially, MIAFs preserve metadata and information on the relationship between the HEIF files. This can be very useful when you need to retain the image credits and source info associated with the photo files.


AVCIs represent Advanced Video Coding within the confines of HEIFs. This ancient encoding format originally dates back to 2003 before being enveloped into the HEIF fold. It is used for both photos and videos under the banner of High-Efficiency Image File Formats.


AV1 is a free, open video coding format that was first used to help transmit videos over the Internet in the early days of the net. Today, it has found support under the HEIF umbrella in the form of AVIFs. It’s an image format based on AV1’s codec. While it might not be as widely used as the HEIC, it certainly still has its uses today.


WXAM files are exclusive to WeChat and other Tencent platforms. According to reports, this proprietary image file format is based on HEVCs. For this reason, it’s fair to consider it an unofficial HEIC variant.

HEIC File: Pros and Cons

Pros of HEIC FilesCons of HEIC Files
High-Efficiency Image Codecs support transparency and multiple images in one file.Some older technologies may not support HEIC files.
HEIC files retain image quality despite compression.You have to convert HEIC files to JPEG to upload them to certain sites.
It’s the default image format for iOS devices, offering compatibility across Apple’s products.HEIC files have better compression than JPEGs, saving you storage space.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an HEIC file?

The HEIC (High-Efficiency Image Codec) is a file format supported by Apple and used for images. It uses advanced compression techniques to store high-quality images in a smaller file size compared to traditional formats like JPEG. (All without loss of quality to boot.)

How do I open HEIC files?

Apple products can open HEIC files by default using the Photos app or other image viewers on the device. For non-Apple devices, you might need to use compatible software that can support HEIC files and convert them to a JPEG or PNG. Not all devices or softwares can open HEICs.

Can I convert HEIC files to JPEGs?

Yes, converting HEIC files to JPEG is an incredibly easy and common move. There are all sorts of tools and software available online to help you switch your HEIC files to more widely recognized formats like JPEG or PNG. This move allows for easier sharing and compatibility across different devices and platforms beyond Apple.

Do all devices support HEICs?

No, not all devices offer native support of HEIC files. Some older devices or operating systems might not recognize HEIC files without updates or additional software installations. This makes it difficult to use the file format on anything other than an Apple device.

Are HEIC files smaller than JPEGs?

Generally, HEIC files are smaller than JPEG files due to more efficient compression methods. This allows users to save storage space without compromising image quality. HEIC files still maintain high image quality even with their smaller size.

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