Apple’s “Live” Photo Feature — Not Just Annoying, It’s Costing You Money & Destroying The Planet — How & Why To Turn It Off

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If you own an iPhone, you’re probably aware that the default setting on your camera is to take “Live” photos. According to Apple, this is a recording 1.5 seconds before and after your image is taken, and allows you to do a number of things, like boomerangs. Cute, right? Gimmick at worst, right? Not so fast, my friend.

The brilliance behind Apple’s strategy on this feature is clear, if you think about it. That extra video clip is a file that is much larger than a still image. That, of course, eats up your device’s available storage. And that, of course, makes you more reliant on storing your photos in the cloud — which is a huge revenue source for Apple. The more they store for you, the more you pay them. It’s also one of the reasons phone cameras keep getting better and better … and thus taking much more ginormous (file size) pictures and videos. I mean, does anyone really need to magnify photos of their dog Fluffy to billboard size without losing resolution? (Yes, that was an Apple advertising campaign at one point.)

It’s the razor blade business model: make your razor compatible with a certain type of blade, and you make money selling the blades to a captive audience that already feels invested because they own the razor and it’s the easiest thing to do. This is the razor blade business model reinvented for the tech world. Don’t sell the phone, sell the storage. Make your phone’s default settings take gigantic files, and charge to store those files.

Not surprisingly, as the image of google results above shows, the Live feature is remarkably difficult to disable. I’ve gone through the steps a number of times, and every now and again, the feature turns itself back on as the default setting — and I don’t realize it until I’m scrolling pictures and see that the last few indeed have the Live feature turned back on. I really despise this feature, so I know there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that I would’ve turned it back on on purpose, so … how does that happen?

I’m going to come back to that in a minute. In the meantime, I’m going to talk about another impact that that gigantic data storage need has. And that’s the climate impact.

The climate impacts of Live photos

Each Live photo is much larger than an already large iPhone photo. Side note: there’s not an option to decrease the file size of your everyday pics that certainly don’t need to be the size of a billboard without losing resolution. My iPhone 13 Pro takes pictures that are, on average, 2–3 MB. And the crazy part is that it doesn’t (of course) tell you this — you have to do something circuitous, like attach it to an email, to see how big it is. Now, this is when I start to feel like the old men I knew as a kid who complained about how things used to be — but heck, it’s natural, right? Not that long ago, default photos were less than 1 MB, and many phones had the option to set your default file size. Apple has neither (if you’re listening, Apple and Samsung, this is an easy option to offer if you’re actually serious about those climate goals you’ve set). If those photos are Live, then the average file size jumps to a whopping 7 MB or more. EACH!

According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), 5 kWh are required to process every GB of storage in the cloud, and only about ⅓ of the cost of that is passed directly to the end user — meaning that we are all paying to deal with it. Now, data centers are indeed getting more efficient all the time, but that’s only part of the equation. The transfer of these files has a footprint on top of the storage of them. So, those 5 kWh will store 140 Live photos, or 450 or so non-Live photos. And again, we should have the option to set our pics of Fluffy to 1 MB or smaller — which could then double that number and make our carbon footprint much smaller.

Turn it off and keep it off

So, unless you’re stoked on the Live feature (and some people are — if you use those cutesie things like boomerangs on the regular, hey, go for it), then the answer is to turn it off. Easy enough, right? Just tap on the Live button (usually top right of the camera screen). BUT — it will turn itself back on for followup pics the next time you open your phone. So, you have to go into camera settings and find the “Preserve settings” button and turn that on.

If that’s not doing the trick for you, more details can be found by googling “Turn Live Photo off permanently _________,” where you fill in the blank with your device type. Giving you instructions here would not be good, since there’s a different pathway depending on your phone model.

But wait, there’s more. That “Preserve settings” feature is a nice option Apple designed to not actually allow you to turn off the damn Live feature! Because guess what? If you happen to graze across the Live button with your finger as you’re shifting the phone to one angle or another, or it jostles wrong in your pocket, then the Live button turns back on and is now … preserved. Amazing, no? So, you have to be diligent.

Every now and again, you can go to your Albums and select the Live Photos album, and just take screen shots of anything you care about and delete the rest.

Phew … Apple sure makes it hard for us to disable this feature. I’m sure Apple’s shareholders are happy about it, but you and I and everyone who depends on planet Earth are paying the price for that extra few cents of profit.

Anyone with a Samsung want to weigh in on whether this concept of unnecessary storage is any better on that side?

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Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is a serial eco-entrepreneur focused on making the world a better place for all its residents. Scott is the founder of CleanTechnica and was just smart enough to hire someone smarter than him to run it. He then started Pono Home, a service that greens homes, which has performed efficiency retrofits on more than 16,000 homes and small businesses, reducing carbon pollution by more than 27 million pounds a year and saving customers more than $6.3 million a year on their utilities. In a previous life, Scott was an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill) , and Green Living Ideas.

Scott Cooney has 152 posts and counting. See all posts by Scott Cooney