Google's rather ambitious WebP image format project has been adding quite a few very interesting features, on top of the list being support for animation, transparency and, perhaps the biggest addition, lossless encoding.
In one fell swoop, WebP, which started out as a replacement for JPEG, now threatens the existence of both GIFs and PNGs, basically all three image formats in which the vast majority of images online are encoded.
Where as, until now, WebP was a strong player, theoretically, and had the potential to be one of the popular image formats online, with the new additions, WebP has the potential to become the only image format used on the web.
"Last month we announced WebP support for animation, ICC profile, XMP metadata and tiling. Today, we introduce a new mode in WebP to compress images losslessly, and support for transparency – also known as alpha channel – in both the lossless and lossy modes," Jyrki Alakuijala, Vikas Arora and Urvang Joshi, three Google software engineers working on the project, announced.
"With these new modes, you can now use WebP to better compress all types of images on the web," they provide a very quick summary of WebP's potential.
Recently, the WebP team made the first step towards moving away from just providing a JPEG alternative. It introduced support for animations, in a style similar to how GIFs handle it.
Because of the much higher quality of the images compressed via WebP, either lossy or lossless, compared to GIF, the new image format, once it gets standardized and supported, should be favorite for anyone now using GIF simply because it supports animations.
Now comes another punch, with the addition of lossless compression as well as transparency, WebP competes with PNG. There are two big reasons why you'd want to use PNG instead of JPEG, one is the fact that it offers lossless compression therefore higher quality and the other is that it supports transparency.
WebP has the same advantages, but also smaller sizes. What's more, a unique advantage is that WebP supports transparency when using lossy compression as well, resulting in much smaller images.
Overall, WebP is really starting to look like the Holy Grail of web images, but all of these features and the format itself are still very much in active development.
What's more, even if WebP does become a really solid option technologically, there's no guarantee that anyone online will adopt it or that browsers will support it. Only Google Chrome and Opera support it now and just an older version of the format, without animations, lossless encoding or transparency.