What is WebP and Why Should You Care?

Today Google announced a new and exciting[?] image format, called WebP (pronounced “weppy”), with hopes of improving the web by reducing image sizes and in turn also reducing the massive amounts of data that flow through data centers such as Google’s.

While this likely won’t affect the average internet user any time soon, it has the potential to make significantly important changes, especially with Google’s push and massive web influence. So what, more specifically, is WebP and why should you care? Read on to find out.

What is WebP?

As mentioned above, WebP (pronounced “weppy”) is an all new image format set to replace the aging and bulky JPEG format, currently the king of the web. WebP, like JPEG, is a lossy compression format, so don’t expect images to look any better. However, WebP uses an entirely different compression method based on Google’s open-source VP8 codec, which results in images approximately 40% smaller than their JPEG counterparts.

WebP also utilizes a new container based on RIFF, allowing developers to insert metadata and potentially more future “features”.

Although WebP images will be smaller than JPEG versions, image quality may not be any worse, though we’ll have to wait and see for definitive proof. For a comparison, check out Google’s JPEG vs WebP gallery.

JPEG vs WebP

JPEG vs WebP

Why Should You Care?

The new WebP image format has the potential to really “supercharge” the web. Google estimates that 65% of all data transmitted via web page is images and photos. With the potential ability to reduce that data by nearly 40%, WebP could result in your requested web pages and apps loading significantly faster.

Not only will end user’s pages load faster, but the data centers and web hosts around the world that deliver the massive amounts of content we consume daily will appreciate the dramatically reduced load they have to carry. Google is a prime example of a company that would greatly benefit from such a significant reduction in transferred data, [hopefully] without the loss of any visual quality vs JPEG.

But, taking things a step further, mobile networks will absolutely love the new format. AT&T has had quite a difficult time supporting the massive demand for data the iPhone has put on their network and a new image format such as this could potentially give these carriers the break they need, not to mention dramatically increase mobile web browsing speeds.

Roadblocks

Challenging JPEG’s reign as the web’s choice image format is a massive undertaking, but if anyone can do it, Google can. One of the biggest roadblocks the new format will face will be browser support, followed by user application support. Google has already been talking to other browser vendors about supporting WebP. Chrome is already slated for WebP support in a few weeks, with Safari likely to follow.

As the format is open source, there’s no doubt other major browsers will jump on board as well, especially with Google’s encouragement. However, the next roadblock will, in my opinion, be user application support.

In order for this new image format to really be accepted and begin being used, applications such as Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, and a whole host of other image and photo editors will have to add support for it as well. Though JPEG is primarily viewed as a web image format, its reach extends far beyond that of the web.

What Do You Think?

WebP is definitely a promising format with the potential to speed up the web for users and reduce the bandwidth burden web hosts suffer, but do you think it can overtake the current king of web—JPEG? Is it worth the trouble to make such a massive change?

Share your thoughts via comment below. Here are also a few additional links for more information.


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  • Christopher Anderton

    Looks nice. But first it needs to be a standard. Then you need all browser vendors to support the new image format. Then you need to have some fallback on older browsers. Then you need to wait 20 years for Internet Explorer to implement. Then…

    ;)

    • http://Web.AppStorm.net Jarel Remick

      Yup, it’s going to take awhile… haha

    • http://themekiss.com ThemeKiss

      It will take forever … :) )

  • http://freeipod.co Charlie

    JPEG?! What about PNG?

    • http://paulmccrodden.com Paul McCrodden

      JPEG isn’t really comparable to JPEG/WebP. PNG’s main useage on the web is lossless compression where as JPEG/WebP’s purpose is lossy compression! PNG also supports an alpha/transparent channel where as JPEG doesn’t, so choosing JPEG or PNG is based on different requirement.

      e.g – PNG better at rendering text then JPEG, JPEG smaller file size then PNG.

  • http://www.alphabux.net Fabien Marry

    “As the format is open source, there’s no doubt other major browsers will jump on board as well”.

    I’m sorry but that’s an open source enthusiast empty claim. Being open source would surely not hurt, but that doesn’t mean the browser developers will care and think this is worth the development effort. Any new image format is also a vector for security issue, and the associated support cost is something to consider.

    I don’t recall mass browser adoption for many other open source format (ogg, flac, and yeah, webm!).
    And the other question is how open source this really would be, similarly to potential patents claim in webm.

    Many many candidates have tried to replace JPEG over the years, all have failed. JPEG 2000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JPEG_2000) had much better compression and was supported in many applications , but was never used by anyone. Backward compatibility trumps everything else, the last thing people want to know is whether their mom’s computer can open the picture they emailed.

    • http://Web.AppStorm.net Jarel Remick

      Sorry, that statement was coming from the thought that Google’s influence, in addition to being open source, would get other browsers to support it.

      WebM is already supported by Chrome, Chromium, Firefox and Opera, with Microsoft building support for it in IE 9 as well. With that set of browsers supporting it, it’s pretty likely Safari and others will support it soon as well. Plus, YouTube already has their videos encoded in this format (along with h.264). http://www.webmproject.org/users/

      Though many candidates have tried to replace JPEG and failed, how many have tried with the full weight of Google (and possibly other massive organizations soon) behind it? Only time will tell whether this format becomes successful or not. :)

  • http://juliangruber.com/ Julian Gruber

    I have the feeling that those WebP images aren’t as sharp as their JPEG-versions. The edges seem to be blurier.

    • http://Web.AppStorm.net Jarel Remick

      Just wondering if you took a look at the unscaled files for a closer look? I planned on doing that today to get a closer look at quality differences.

  • http://tommasoraspo.com Raspo

    Will it support transparency?

    • http://Web.AppStorm.net Jarel Remick

      I don’t believe so, but I don’t know for sure.

      • Mav

        They will, they say it in the blog post.

      • http://paulmccrodden.com Paul McCrodden

        That’s great Mav, hadn’t read that yet! I think being the superpower Google is and if WebP is as efficient as we are being led to believe, we would no longer need PNG for transparency coupled with small file sizes etc., only a matter of time before it is adopted, albeit a long time.

  • mrvn

    the compression rate is really impressive at this rate of details. i dont care on old browsers like ie6, so cool thing here :-)

    • http://Web.AppStorm.net Jarel Remick

      I agree. :)

    • nitzan

      Much better compression with higher ocmpresssion ratio can be achieved using the newly announnced “hipix’ code (www.hipixpro.com). Unlike the webP that utilizes only intra coding, the “hipix” utilzes inter and intra coding and may yield compression that reduces the file size up to 75% while maintaining good quality.

  • David Ferguson

    Only thing I’m wondering about is.. if you download the full size images and look at them close.. What’s the deal with the night pic of the building? The WebP version is lighter than the original. Looks like the exposure settings are different or something.

    Still cool stuff though and like the others have said, we’re lucky IE is finally supporting some of the current stuff, no way it would begin to support WebP anytime soon.

    • http://Web.AppStorm.net Jarel Remick

      You might be surprised, Microsoft is going to support WebM (the video version of WebP) in IE 9. The problem will be supporting older browsers for the next 10 years. Developers that want to use WebP will have to serve up both JPEG and WebP versions of images based on browser version, which would be a huge pain. :(

  • Suzanne

    I think that would be great thing. Would like to see my software save the images in that format… then that means I need to upgrade my editing software (which you almost have to do yearly anyhow). I am looking forward to that and I switch people all the time over to FireFox. Why wouldn’t all browsers want to support a better image compression!!!

    • http://Web.AppStorm.net Jarel Remick

      I imagine a lot of desktop software could support WebP with a simple update.

  • Mannie Schumpert

    Yeah, every one of the “weppies” on the comparison page are significantly lighter than its jpeg counterpart. I wouldn’t think Google would adjust the pictures to hype the weppies, but it doesn’t make sense that a different kind of compression would have such an impact on the appearance of the image.

  • Christopher Anderton

    Another thing to have in mind. Patents. Yes. You heard it right.

  • Dave Moses

    Seems like Google didn’t really think far ahead. The hipix (www.hipixpro.com) free for PCs solution is of higher quality (422) utilizes Inter-Intra within the still frame (which seemd like science fiction, but it acjieves over x2 better results than WebP). It is also better suited for any purpose, preserving EXIF info and enables, using the mp4 container AUDIO annotation, Most important – you can use it on cellphones with H.264 acceleration in realtime.

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  • http://deliawilsondesign.com Delia

    Uh, since I just put a wad of money into Adobe Creative Suite, I’m not planning to upgrade for years. As a graphic and web designer, I gotta have the software to edit the images. Great idea but it’s really going to take a long time to implement.

    • Ira

      Well, within a few weeks you’ll be able to download the hipix plug-in for your Adobe CS… The first release will be free for a limited time, and you’ll be able to use all your CS features with hipix. Try it with some hi-res (12-16-21MP) pictures and you’ll be surprised that for what seems like lossless compression (but is still lossy) you’ll shrink the JPEG file by 1:3-1:8…

  • http://tylerherman.com Tyler Herman

    Looks very promising. Curious to see how long it takes to catch on.

  • http://www.jpegmini.com Dror Gill

    You don’t really need a new format to reduce the file size of JPEGs. My company developed JPEGmini, which reduces JPEG file size by up to 75%, while they remain in standard JPEG format. Check out the comparison to WebP at http://www.jpegmini.com.

    • http://jc-designs.net/blog Jeremy Carlson

      Um…what do i need to do to use your format, cause I didn’t see a download button, or how to accomplish this.

      • http://www.jpegmini.com Dror Gill

        We plan to have a web-based evaluation tools for encoding imges into JPEGmini in a few weeks on our website. You won’t need any client to view them, since they are in standard JPEG format (just smaller).

  • http://www.jc-designs.net/blog Jeremy Carlson

    I’m not sure what to think about this. I don’t want to start having to use work arounds to support browsers that don’t support this new image type. It’s fine to say that they will, but they don’t yet. I’m not about to add more javascript like the whole png fix we did for ie6 again. Plus, I’m guessing they won’t give a free update to my version of PS (CS4) to be able to save it in this format. If they don’t, I’m not about to spend the money to upgrade just to be able to do it. When its fully supported, then I’ll use it.

  • http://twitter.com/xPatriicK xPatriicK

    I already love WebP! Unfortunatly I didn’t find a site which allows webp uploads yet.
    And I also don’t give a f* if someone uses an old browser which doesnt support webp :)

  • http://lewiswalsh.com Lewis Walsh

    Browser support is a few steps down the line just yet.

    Until cameras (especially Point-and-shoots and cellphones) can natively output WebP, and also until the web’s development languages (PHP/GD/ImageMagick, Python, Ruby etc) can work with the WebP images users upload browser support will be purely academic.

  • http://joelglovier.com Joel A. Glovier

    The answer is yes. WEBP can overtake JPG. It’s just a matter of how long will it take, and is it the right replacement.

    The web is such a young and relatively un-organized system. There’s lots of ailing solutions that we just keep using because there are no replacements or systems that accomodate for replacement.

    If there is substantial benefit to be gained (and apparently there is) from a transition like this, it will happen.

  • http://eczaneden.co jeff

    I would say it would take a while only if it were for backwards compatibility. Although Internet 6 is not the problem it used to be, internet explorer is still dominant and not exactly the fastest to implement standards…;)

    I tried a few pictures from the webp gallery and indeed the pics in this format seems to load faster.

    But i am not sure – even if Google asks nicely :) – anyone would be happy to venture into a new image format with no backward compatibility for just 30% gain ish in place. Also to save Google space! ;)

    Faster but I would venture that one would need a real revolution in terms of picture size saving in order to provoke a switch from jpg. As data storage gets cheaper, all communication lines faster and faster, not sure those 30% are worth the trouble!

    cheers

  • http://quickmediasolutions.com George Edison

    Well… I decided to take some initiative and write a WebP import / export plugin for the Gimp. You can find it here: http://registry.gimp.org/node/25366

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Very awesome! Great work, thanks for sharing!

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