When looking through your photos folder, you may have come across some with the file extension of AAE. On an Apple device, the photo could be named something such as IMG_12345.AAE. On a Windows machine, the file extensions may not show by default. Therefore, the image file name may simply be IMG_12345 with a blank icon preview. This can be confusing to Windows users. I am sure you are wondering what in the heck type of file this is and how you can open it because when you try, you will receive a message something along the lines of “Windows cannot open this file.”
An .AAE file is simply the edits that have been made to an existing photo on an Apple device. An AAE file can be deleted without erasing the actual photo, but you will lose all edits you have made to the file. The edit data is saved in an XML format that can be easily viewed in a text editor like Notepad.
As mentioned, this file extension is native to Apple devices and machines, specifically iOS 8 and above and Mac OS 10.10 and later. If you transfer a photo with this file extension to a Windows computer, the file will transfer as a regular old JPEG and the edits made will not be present.
In older versions of iOS, any edits made to a photo would automatically overwrite the original photograph. With the creation of an AAE file, this is no longer the case. Now when you make an edit, the original file is left alone and saves the edit instructions in a separate file – the AAE file (which is also called the AAE sidecar file.) The location of the AAE file is in the same folder as the original photo and follows the same naming format, but instead of .JPG at the end, it will have the .AAE file extension.
So what do you DO with these files? Once you are finished with your edits on your iOS device, the easiest thing to do is to email the finished photo to yourself. Doing this will “seal” the edits to the picture. You can also post it to Facebook or Instagram (or similar), but as you know, doing so will always lower the quality of the image a bit.
As I mentioned, as of now these files are completely useless on a Windows or Android devices. Options to use them may become available soon, but we cannot predict when. You can delete these files safely if you choose. However, if you want to save them in the hope they’ll one day be usable, it won’t hurt anything. Each of these files are tiny and take up virtually no drive space.
Do you think making these types of files is a step forward or backward for Apple? While I love that the original photo is no longer automatically overwritten, it seems to me it would make more sense to simply ask us if we would LIKE to overwrite them or save them separately. This could potentially save some space – and some confusion.