Chrome bans JPEG XL photo format that could save phone space

What is happening

Google’s Chrome team said it will drop support for JPEG XL, a photo format that offers space-saving and image-quality benefits.

why is it important

Google likes a rival format it helped develop, AVIF. But JPEG XL has some advantages that photographers might appreciate, and the dispute could mean we’re stuck with good ol’ JPEG for even longer.

The new JPEG XL standard requires considerably less storage space than JPEG while still delivering optimal image quality, factors that convinced Adobe photo experts to adopt this technology. But Google’s Chrome team has just rejected the photo format in favor of a competing technology.

At a time when you have to decide to shell out an extra $100 for the phone with more storage space, technology that reduces photo file sizes sounds like a great idea. Getting to that future, however, turns out to be messy.

JPEG XL is an industry standard, but Google likes a rival it helped develop called AVIF, and Apple’s iPhones take photos in another format, HEIC.

There’s more to love about JPEG XL than saving space. It’s designed for photographic use, doing a better job of preserving fine detail and texture than video-derived formats like AVIF and HEIC. JPEG XL also improves image quality with HDR support, one of the reasons why Adobe – usually conservative with support for new file formats – approved it. Facebook praises the speed of JPEG XL, and Intel thinks JPEG XL is the best of the next-gen photo format options.

Google doesn’t have a veto over the future of JPEG XL, but as the maker of the world’s most widely used browser, it can effectively block its use on the web.

Disputes over industry standards are a common problem that hampers the arrival of new technologies and confuses consumers in the short term. A classic example, VHS versus Betamax, fragmented the VCR video recording industry in the 1980s, leaving millions of customers on the losing side. The charging of the smartphone, however, is distributed over USB-C and Lightning Apple moves away from its Lightning port. Wireless charging didn’t catch on until the Qi standard defeated incompatible rivals.

As the industry irons out its problems, the decades-old JPEG retains its place at the heart of the photo world a little longer. So maybe you’d be better off paying for the extra storage on your phone, Google Photos, or Apple iCloud.

Google remains firm: no JPEG XL

Don’t expect Google to change its position.

“During our experience supporting JPEG-XL in Chrome, we concluded that it did not offer substantial advantages over AVIF, and unlike AVIF, JPEG-XL was not adopted by other browsers,” the company said in a statement Wednesday. “We do not plan to support JPEG-XL at this time and will continue to focus our efforts on improving existing formats in Chrome.”

Chrome today supports JPEG XL, often abbreviated JXL for its filename extension, but you have to specifically enable it through a somewhat technical process. In a software update on Friday, Google removed JPEG XL support for versions of Chrome that will debut in the coming weeks. A Sunday explanation for the removal of JPEG XL said Google decided to drop the format for factors including low adoption, insufficient benefits and an effort to improve “existing formats”.

The result was a torrent of comments in the feature tracker in favor of JPEG XL, including longtime JPEG XL advocate Jon Sneyers who helped create the standard. “I think it’s pretty clear that JPEG XL actually brings things that existing formats don’t,” he said in a comment. He also published a detailed blog post on Tuesday extolling the benefits of JPEG XL.

JPEG XL fans: Adobe, Facebook, Intel, even Google

Sneyers works at Cloudinary, an internet infrastructure company and JPEG XL funder, and has important allies.

“I believe JPEG XL is currently the best codec available for wide distribution and consumption of HDR still photos,” Eric Chan, senior engineer at Adobe, said in an August comment before Google’s decision to remove JPEG XL. “I have made several comparisons with AVIF and prefer JPEG XL due to its greater versatility and faster encoding speed.”

This speed is especially important for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop customers who often export hundreds or thousands of photos, he said. Adobe has integrated JPEG XL support into Photoshop, although it must be manually enabled.

Speed ​​is also one of the main reasons Facebook loves JPEG XL, Facebook Image Team member Erik Andre said in 2021.

Intel sees JPEG XL as a key enabler for HDR, a technology for covering a fuller range of highlights and darks. “Browser support is the critical missing link in this ecosystem,” said Roland Wooster, principal engineer at Intel who also leads HDR standards work within the VESA Display Standards Group, in an article by August on whether Mozilla’s Firefox should support JPEG XL.

E-commerce company Shopify likes the JPEG XL format for its benefits of representing color and detail well, both of which are important for product photos.

Even Google also has fans. Jyrki Alakuijala, a researcher who has helped design several compression technologies, said in 2020 that JPEG XL is the technically soundest and most comprehensive option among new image formats.

In a statement on Wednesday, Adobe said it was considering AVIF: “Adobe recently shipped Camera Raw 15.0 with high dynamic range support as a Technology Preview. This includes playback and writing JPEG XL photos,” Adobe said. “We are currently considering adding support for the AVIF format which, like JPEG XL, can be used for HDR output.”

Mozilla and Facebook parent Meta declined to comment. Intel had no comment.

Is AVIF the future of our photos?

JPEG XL isn’t the only way to improve image quality on the web. Google is a major proponent of AVIF, a photo format derived from the Alliance for Open Media’s AV1 video format. Like JPEG XL, AVIF is royalty-free, supports HDR, and benefits from modern multi-core processor acceleration.

Mozilla helped Google develop AVIF, and it’s built into Chrome and Firefox. Apple started supporting AVIF in Safari with MacOS 13 and iOS 16. HEIC, encumbered by patent licensing requirements, is unlikely to succeed as a format on the web.

AVIF has a few drawbacks over JPEG XL, such as a reputation for being slower to create. This could slow down photo slideshows on the web and hamper burst mode photography on your phone. And AVIF lacks a “progressive” option that quickly gets a low quality image on a website and then fleshes out its details. This helps websites load without skipping elements.

With big names backing it, AVIF could trump JPEG XL.

But don’t expect to find out soon. Next time you upgrade, consider skipping the 256GB phone and using 512GB of storage.

Jack C. Nugent