Apple started using the High Efficiency Image File (HEIF) format with photos captured by iOS devices in 2017. Commonly referred to as HEIC files because they use HEIC as an extension, this file format has some advantages over JPGs because it promises better quality, smaller file sizes and built-in support for HDR. However, opening HEIC files in their native format can be a challenge if you are not using an Apple device.
iOS, iPadOS, and macOS all come with the ability to use HEIC files, but Windows users aren’t so lucky; Microsoft does not offer a way to open these files by default. Don’t worry, though, as viewing HEIC files on Windows is pretty painless on Windows 11.
Just be aware that adding the ability to open HEIC files to Windows 11 isn’t free, and Apple will automatically convert photos to JPEG if shared with people outside of its ecosystem. Simply uploading the original HEIC file through iCloud.com is a bit of a hassle because Apple just assumes Windows users want the JPEG version by default. So for many people viewing HEIC files won’t be critical, but if it’s for you, be prepared to part with a dollar.
How to open HEIC files on Windows 11
1. Try to open a HEIC file with the Photos app. Microsoft ships Windows 11 and Windows 10 with a built-in image viewer called Photos. It doesn’t offer HEIC compatibility by default, so you’ll have to select the app from a menu when trying to open your photo.
2. Click “Download and Install Now”. Photos helpfully displays a link to the HEVC extension that lets you open HEIC files (among others) in the Microsoft Store. Click on it.
3. Confirm that you want to launch the Microsoft Store. Windows 11 will ask you to confirm that you want to switch to a new application; let it launch the Microsoft application marketplace.
4. Click on the “$ 0.99” button. Or, if you are outside of the United States, the button displays the price of the extension in your local currency. It’s on the far left of the page. You will be asked if you want to pay with a credit card, PayPal, or the balance on a gift card. It’s up to you.
5. Click on “Buy”. Once you’ve selected your payment method (and set it up if this is your first purchase from the Microsoft Store), you’ll see a confirmation window. Click on “Buy” to continue your purchase in order to be able to install the extension.
6. Confirm that the purchase was successful. A new “Open” button should appear where the “$ 0.99” button or equivalent was previously. Clicking on it will do nothing, but it will show that the extension has been installed successfully.
7. Open your HEIC file. Try to reopen the file you started with. The photos should launch and, thanks to the HEVC video extension, display your image. (In our case, a vanity plaque that we decided to send to a few friends while we were on the go.)
You can now use Photos to view and manage your HEIC files instead of just the previously converted JPEG files. But the extension is not limited to allowing Photos to open images stored in this format. It also supports HEIC for built-in software such as Paint and third-party applications such as Adobe PhotoShop. Photos will also have the option to convert HEIC images to other formats (with all the usual suspects, from JPEG to TIFF, included) and vice versa.
More Windows 11 tutorials: