Goodbye JPEG, Hello WebP?

Richard Rabatt, Google Product Manager wrote earlier today about a new image file format which the engineers at Google have been working on. WebP aims to lower file sizes and in turn reduce download times while still retaining a certain level of quality.

Images and photos make up about 65% of the bytes transmitted per web page today. They can significantly slow down a user’s web experience, especially on bandwidth-constrained networks such as a mobile network. Images on the web consist primarily of lossy formats such as JPEG, and to a lesser extent lossless formats such as PNG and GIF. Our team focused on improving compression of the lossy images, which constitute the larger percentage of images on the web today.

WebP images can’t yet be viewed until browsers support the format, but Google are working on a patch for WebKit to provide native support for WebP in a future release of Google Chrome which will include support for alpha channels, or a transparency layer.

Check out some examples from the Google WebP Gallery and see what you think. It may be my weary eyes but the WebP images seem to be a bit softer than the JPEGs. As a photographer I would be pretty fussy about my images not looking sharp. In the side by side comparison JPEG quality seems better, but maybe seeing a WebP in isolation would make it good enough and a reasonable compromise between quality and file size?

WebP is an open-source format. Undoubtedly it will take a long time before something like this would be adopted by the masses but as most people want faster browsing it’s an exciting development.

Do we need another file format to play with? Do you think WebP might some day replace JPEGs online or do we just need better browsers?