Don't Let Your Precious Memories Disappear Into a Digital Black Hole

Apple takes a stand against JPEG

If you have an iPhone 7 or newer and you've recently updated to the new iOS11, your photos are no longer being taken in JPEG. They're now being taken in a format called High Efficiency Image Format, or "heif." If you have an iPhone 6s or older, you're not going to be affected by this.

This is a huge move for Apple, given two things:
1. The iPhone is the most popular digital camera used worldwide, and
2. JPEG has been king of digital image formats for decades

The problem with JPEG is that it was created in 1992. It's an antiquated digital format that was created for old computer systems, when the internet was still in its infancy. JPEG file sizes are large. With the need for speed on the internet these days, any JPEG images that are posted online must be compressed and will suffer a loss of image quality.

Enter the HEIF, pronounced "heef." The extension for HEIFs is actually .heic, which stands for "high efficiency image container." These image "containers" can store more than just a still image. They can store multiple images, audio information, depth of field information, and more. These additional types of information will make for some interesting photo apps down the line.

What does this mean for you?

The biggest benefit for most users is that HEIFs are about half the size of JPEGs and have better image quality. This means that you'll be able to store more images on your phone. (Pause to celebrate.)

The downside is that HEIFs are not yet widely adopted, making for some compatibility issues if you want to view the images on your computer. But don't fret just yet. iPhone makes it easy to share your images from your phone in most use cases. If you're iMessaging images, they will be shared easily with other iPhone users. If you're uploading to Instagram or Facebook, your iPhone will automatically convert the image to JPEG quietly in the background, without you ever knowing it needed to convert in the first place.

If you do want to transfer the images to your computer, there are heif-to-jpeg converters online.

The bigger picture (see what I did there?)

I think there's a more important message that needs to be delivered here. As with all things digital, JPEG will eventually become obsolete. JPEGs were once burned to CD's as storage. Our computers no longer have CD drives. Then they were being stored on USB drives. Now USB's are being replaced by USBc's and Thunderbolt and Lightning. Oh my! Well, at least we can store all the images in the Cloud, right? As much as we'd like to believe that Cloud storage is reliable, the simple fact is that digital media is not archival. Even the almighty Amazon is susceptible to data storage disruption. You can read an article about it here. Not only can we NOT rely on digital media to store our precious memories, did you ever pause to think that there would be a time when images would no longer be readable because the file format changed?

Digital media is not archival. They can be corrupt and will be lost forever. Digital media file formats will change. They will no longer be accessible. I think we should take these as a signal that digital media should not be our only source of photo storage.

This is why it's important to have your best images in print. I'm not talking about every photo. I think we can all get a little trigger happy with the onset of digital cameras, knowing that we can simply delete the less-than-perfect version of our sefies. While I have been known to enjoy a selfie or four, these are not the images that I'll carry forth to my grandchildren. The things that I remember most about my childhood are what I see in my childhood photo albums. Those images are burned into my brain because they were selective, and because I actually looked at them regularly. When I think about my grandchildren looking at images of the younger version of myself, I get the feeling that the images they'll see are not the thousands of digital images that may or may not be available in digital form. Rather, I know that the printed images will last and will be the actual images that they see.

I'd like to believe that my children will see every single precious moment that I took of them because I could easily pull out my phone and snap away. But the truth is that there are only a few out of the thousands that I go back to regularly. These are the ones that are worthy to print. It's the photo books and the framed prints that my children will see when they're older and when I'm gone. How many times over the past few years have you changed phones and lost images? Even though you'll be able to store twice as many images on your phone with the new heif, take a moment to reflect on what's more important. A gazillion digital images that you can't possibly remember and that your children will never see? Or the few printed images that they'll always go back to?


This is a replica of a picture of my grandparents on their wedding day in the Philippines in 1920's. I never met my grandfather because he died at a very young age, leaving my grandmother with 9 children, the youngest age 7. I never knew this version of my grandmother. My only memories are of her sitting in the same spot in my aunt's house, watching baseball and yelling at the action on the TV.

I think she's quite beautiful in this picture. I can see so much of my aunts in her face here. And suddenly, she's more than the old woman that I remember. She's young and full of life. She's full of hopes and dreams. She's three dimensional and complex. Even though she passed away several years ago, she's more alive to me now than she ever was before.

The first time I saw this picture was two months ago, nearly 90 years after it was taken. 90 years from now, which is more likely to be seen by my grandchildren? This printed picture, or a heif?

What legacy will you leave behind that your children's children will actually see and enjoy?

In my next post, I'll talk about protecting your digital media. And I'll also share some fun ways to enjoy prints.

Stay tuned!