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Google to Stop Offering iPhone Users Unlimited Backups

October 21, 2019

11:54 pm

As great as the new features in Google's just-revealed Pixel 4 and 4 XL phones are, the phones are taking a step backwards in one respect: Users won't be able to upload an unlimited amount of original quality photos to their account for free.

Worse, Apple iPhone users currently still can. Google has termed this iPhone ability a “bug,” and is working to shut off iPhone users' access to unlimited photo backups to order to keep their competition from getting a perk their own product doesn't allow.

Confused? There are a lot of moving parts. Here's what to know about the new policy.

Google's Photo Back Up Service

Originally, Google offered Pixel users unlimited photo storage: Pixels 1 through 3 included the offer. It let users backup all the photos they wanted on their Google Photos account in their full original resolution.

With the Pixel 4 rollout, users can still store an unlimited amount of “high quality” photos, but any original quality photos they store will count towards their account's 15GB cap — a storage capacity that also needs to stretch across everything else that user has in Google Drive.

If you're not a power user, you may not notice. But some long-time Pixel fans will suddenly find themselves out of storage space unless they start deleting images or upgrade to a premium account.

And to add insult to injury, all their iPhone carrying friends aren't facing the same problem.

iPhone Owners Get Unlimited Back Ups… For Now

iPhone users are currently still getting that free storage due to the way in which their file format is stored. Any phones running iOS 11 or later use the High Efficiency Image Coding format, or HEIC.

As the name hints, it's a particularly efficient way of storing images. Since the Google Photos system uses file size to determine what qualifies as a now-premium ‘original quality’ upload and what's merely a ‘high quality' upload, it gives HEIC files a free pass, and the format won't count towards the 15GB limit.

In theory, this means that iPhone users could store unlimited images on Google Photos, as the HEIC format images will never trigger the data cap.

Google says ‘Fix' Is Coming

Naturally, Google doesn't want iPhone users nabbing that unlimited free storage that it just cut off from Pixel owners.

As a Google spokesperson told Android Police:

“We are aware of this bug and are working to fix it.”

No word yet on what will happen to those legacy files that exceed the 15GB limit, but at the very least, we can expect iPhone users to soon have to suffer through all the same arbitrary storage limitations as the Pixel owners.

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Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for the last decade. He's also a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry (and Digital Book World 2018 award finalist) and has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect. When not glued to TechMeme, he loves obsessing over 1970s sci-fi art.