New WebP Image Format Could Send JPEG Packing

Google has introduced a new image format to help speed up the performance of websites. WebP (pronounced “weppy”) reduces the file size of images by 40 percent, the company claims.

Images make up 65 percent of the bytes transmitted per Web page, according to Google.

WebP was designed to improve the compression offered by the widely used lossy JPEG format. The result is the lossy WebP.

Google has created a site for Web developers and users to assess the performance of WebP. The images presented at the site show WebP side-by-side with JPEG images. The WebP images are 40 to 50 percent trimmer in bytes but look the same to the human eye. The comparisons were selected by Google, so it’s impossible to tell whether all images will resolve at equivalent quality to the larger JPEG images.

WebP comes at a time when Google has warned the Web developer community that it has started to factor loading speed as part of its criteria in ranking sites in search results. WebP is one of a number of tools Google has released to help developers speed their websites. Others include Speed Tracer Chrome and Page Speed Firefox.

Based on Open Source VP8

To trim down file size for WebP, Google used an image compressor based on the VP8 codec that Google open-sourced in May 2010. Google tested the VP8 format by randomly picking about a million images from the Web — mostly JPEGs, plus some PNGs and GIFs –and re-encoding them to WebP.

The result was a reduction in file size of around 39 percent without perceptively compromising visual quality, according to Google. Google is also releasing a conversion tool that allows developers to convert images to the WebP format.

Will Developers Switch?

The success of WebP will depend on the developer community’s willingness to switch to from the ubiquitous JPEG.

“Google is a force of nature on the Internet. If ever there was a company that could drive Internet standards, it’s Google,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “The only one in their vicinity is Microsoft, and Microsoft is not a major power in organizing and delivering images.”

The determining factor in WebP adoption may be the degree of unhappiness with current site speed.

“The challenge is that the market thinks JPEG is good enough,” said Enderle. “Google hasn’t really done much to get people to move off something they really embrace. Gmail is probably the exception. Google has the breadth and stature to do it, but do they have the skillset to move people off of something they like?”

The Internet Is Drowning in Data

Part of the initiative to adopt WebP — or a competing alternative likely to be introduced in JPEG — is the need to speed websites.

“We are all virtual packrats. The amount of unstructured data is exploding,” Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, told TechNewsWorld. “If WebP reduces file size by 40 percent compared with JPEG, myself and other consumers will be all for it.”

Whether or not Google gains widespread support for WebP, the introduction of a trimmed-down image will put pressure on developers and JPEG to reduce the size of files — even if it means some degradation in the quality of images.

“What we see is Google trying to go to the head of the class by promoting WebP as a new standard, and they will support it in their own Chrome browser in the next few weeks,” said DiDio. “It ups the ante for the JPEG. That’s a good thing. We need competition to spur quality.”

1 Comment

  • Yes, it IS a good thing to have a new standard to give us a faster web experience, especially with more mobile browsing taking place. However, I hope that there will also be a way to still access higher quality jpegs when we want to use a graphic in a presentation or on a higher resolution screen. Maybe we’ll just need a "switch" on a website to view in WebP mode or standard mode with jpeg graphics. I just don’t wish to downgrade my visual experience for the sake of speed unless it’s for mobile browsing.

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