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WebP: Google’s New Web Image Format

So here’s one I didn’t see coming: Google has announced a new image format for use on the web. Named “WebP“, Google claims

To improve on the compression that JPEG provides, we used an image compressor based on the VP8 codec that Google open-sourced in May 2010. We applied the techniques from VP8 video intra frame coding to push the envelope in still image coding. We also adapted a very lightweight container based on RIFF. While this container format contributes a minimal overhead of only 20 bytes per image, it is extensible to allow authors to save meta-data they would like to store.

While the benefits of a VP8 based image format were clear in theory, we needed to test them in the real world. In order to gauge the effectiveness of our efforts, we randomly picked about 1,000,000 images from the web (mostly JPEGs and some PNGs and GIFs) and re-encoded them to WebP without perceptibly compromising visual quality. This resulted in an average 39% reduction in file size. We expect that developers will achieve in practice even better file size reduction with WebP when starting from an uncompressed image.

There is a conversion tool, and Google says that an alpha transparency layer is coming soon to the format, which will give it PNG-style transparency. Oddly, the conversion tool is only currently available for Linux users!

Google’s WebP info pages contain a Gallery showing comparisons between JPG and WebP images. Since browsers can’t yet support WebP images, they are inside some sort of “PNG container” as they mention on the site.

The surface claim here is that Google wants to modernize compressed image formats for use on the web, to make downloading webpages and images faster. Obviously, as an advertising company the faster a page loads, the quicker you see their ads.

Seeing as how the format is Open Source, I can’t really see any downside to Google being the originator of the format. The GIF format ran into issues since it was patented, which led to the development of the PNG format. The patent on the GIF format has since expired, according to Wikipedia.

The real question is this: will it be adopted, and how widespread will the adoption be? The first step is for browsers to support the format, then those who create images. Will the major graphics software developers support WebP, such as Adobe? I think that will be a deciding factor. Using a command-line prompt to convert images is not going to help the adoption rate.

Some independent graphics software developers have already jumped on the WebP bandwagon. Pixelmator has already started adding WebP support to their software. But I think it’ll take seeing WebP support in software that is more widespread across the graphics and web industry before we will see any widespread support. Yes, I am talking about Photoshop and Illustrator.

So as creative types, I’m curious what our readers think of the new format, and how likely you think you’ll be to use the new format if/when Adobe and the like start supporting it. Will the file size savings be worth moving over to a new format, one that may present compatibility issues at the outset when sharing files with others without support for the format in their software?

Is the file size saving something that concerns you as a graphic designer or a web developer? How big of a role does it play in your creative process?

Go!

About the Author, George Coghill

George Coghill isa freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist specializing in mascot cartoon character design & cartoon logos. His cartooning & illustration work can be seen at CoghillCartooning.com and at his cartooning and illustration blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here!
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Discussion

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  • Anonymous

    if i could get png-style transparency + jpeg-style compression i’d be all over this.

    • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

      Alpha transparency is in the works from what Google is saying.

  • Mike Shoaf

    I’m all for a format that could offer better image quality at smaller file sizes than JPEG, but that’s a long road to hoe. It’s only been within the last 2-3 years that clients and colleagues have gotten comfortable with PDF documents (which didn’t have a viable competitor with a ubiquitous “installed base” like any competitor to JPEG would have).

    I wish .webp well, and hopefully Google is big enough to put some inertia behind it.

    Remember JPEG 2000? Yeah, me neither. But it didn’t have Google (and if Adobe joins in, even better) behind it.

  • http://www.gomedia.us Jeff Finley

    “Too big” images aren’t a problem anymore in the web. With broadband becoming ubiquitous, why would Google care to try to speed up image loading by 39% when so many people are now adding HD video content? Unless you’re talking about optimizing for mobile devices.

    Does Google say anything about somehow making images for searchable with this new format? Like it somehow embeds keywords into the image or color information? So you could find “green” images on the web or search for text and find images with that text on a sign?

    • Anonymous

      surely they care because they’re also into mobile now too where images with a small file size and alpha would be perfect.

      embedded meta info would be very impressive – it could be used to help out on CC or copyright info, as well as tracking images across the internet, tinyurl links style.

  • Adam

    I’m surprised this new format isn’t more concerned with making images more searchable / crawlable and less concerned with file size.

  • teebee

    We’ve finally got modern browsers supporting png’s, and with compressors to make our png’s smaller, I bet there isn’t a 39% difference! It seems a waste of time and money to make a new format.

  • Seltzdesign

    Not to forget Adobe Fireworks! I guess that should be the first Adobe software to fully support it.

  • http://www.securityking.com Craig

    Just read about this the other day, seems interesting, still early days with this format to be used throughout a website, but can see this growing in popularity for images on the web, as sure Google will add additional search features, like keywords and replacing the alt tag?

  • Anonymous

    With Google already getting the WebM out the door, and now WebP, I’m generally pretty optimistic about all this, especially when you consider the Open Source nature of both of these.

    To me, WebM is prob more important in that respect as h.264 worries me, knowing Apple holds licenses / patents over that one.

    I’m hoping that Adobe do get on board with it as do browser vendors… Google certainly do have a reasonable relationship with Adobe (if only thru their common enemy!), and Adobe have nothing to lose by supporting WebP (WebM more so).

  • Kenneth B

    I read a post regarding this the other day seems very interesting i suppose it is still early stages to see this through out a whole website however i can see this becoming more popular with images on the web.

  • Wayne

    Hopefully Adobe (and others) will adopt this and add to their software, as I have just opened-up two identical images from Google’s site and zoomed in to 500% in Photoshop. The .webp image has no .jpg artifacts and is smaller – therefore making the image clearer.

    As long as the images are crawl-able by the bots, I think this is the main concern I have.

    Wayne :: http://www.slightlycurvedcube.co.uk

  • http://www.natehull.com Nate

    The issue for me would be browser support for people with older browsers and out of date technology. I still find my self avoiding using png’s sometimes because some people still have garbage like ie 6. I know those numbers are fleeting, but some sites will have target audiences that may actually use obsolete software.

  • http://simonh.me Simon H.

    I’m kind of like Jeff and Adam here: weird they didn’t mention anything about searchability. On the other end, the point about PDF is true and the point about mobile web too: when designing for mobile web, smaller equals faster equals better.

  • http://www.craigfordham.net Lisa Thomason

    Wow! What a surprise from Google, looks like they really mean it about speeding up the web, can’t wait to see how this develops. LT

  • Anneka

    If webP provides the smaller fast size whilst still keeping the quality of the image that would be great. As developers more of our clients are asking how well these websites would work on mobile devices, by reducing the size by 39% would mean faster loading. Cross browser is also important I still don’t use PNG’s for transparent images because some people are still on IE6! Maybe once this launches Google could start thinking about optimising images.

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  • http://www.microsourcing.com/disciplines/graphic-design.asp Karen Cayamanda

    It all depends on the browsers’ willingness to support the format. Anyway, Google will find a way around that, I’m sure.

  • http://www.snapartwork.com Photo Framing Online

    Though, it seems to be a good one but it will take sometime to get over the JPEG format completely as a lot would depend on the way the pictures will be available to the people. I think that this would act as the deciding factor and a lot would depend on the way the things are to be dealt with for the people creating a convenient environment for them to work in.

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    Google has been thinking about introducing a new format that would make the searching the images over the Internet to be an even easier process. I think that this would be accepted by many people due to its usefulness but it will take some time before it comes to the front.

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  • GOD

    you look fucking stoned bro

  • Darryn Sheldon

    can’t create my Photshop docs with the images dl’ed in webp :( sadly usability and size don’t even match the same categories.