Itay Rosenfeld recently wrote a good article in TechCrunch about WebRTC and what he thinks needs to happen to make WebRTC really take off in 2015.
On the whole, I agree with Itay and he makes some good points. There are however, a couple of things I would challenge.
Itay’s article is primarily focused on browser calling and the need to stop fighting over codecs etc. I could not agree more. That is the single most important thing to bring WebRTC browser calling for the masses on desktops. However, the support for WebRTC in mobile browsers is just not here at the moment, and I doubt it ever will be for the following main reasons:
A number of studies (this is one) are showing that app usage totally dominates mobile data consumption. Anyone that wants to succeed on mobile will build an app and not rely on web experience (news apps might be the exception). Ben Evans from a16z recently discussed and suggests that mobile apps are changing the web experience we have been used to for 20 years.
So there is really no pressure from consumers or vendors/site owners to make this happen on a browser level.
At the moment, web based calling just doesn’t work because you can’t notify people that they have an incoming call or message. There is some progress with using WebNotifications, but it will not be ready for this year and will take time to become a normal experience for the user.
Itay was right in saying that there was no word from Apple about WebRTC support. I am going to be bold here and say it will never happen. The reason for that is in the latest iOS8 and OSX updates, Apple took their own approach to voice calling by adding the new feature to handover calls between your Apple devices using FaceTime. I have a hard time to see why Apple would care about WebRTC given this.
Tsahi Levent-Levi has published a report on native WebRTC here.
Itay is saying that WebRTC is enabling communication with no software installed and stating that T-Mobile added WiFi calling late last year. This is a perfect example that WebRTC on mobile requires software to be installed (in this case a new version of iOS) and, in this case, it’s not even WebRTC.
WebRTC is a wonderful piece of technology that enables developers to deal with a number of challenges when it comes to Voice:
What it doesn’t do is to help you find where the person you want to talk to is, which is pretty crucial in order to make a real-time communication work.
For you as an app owner you have several avenues:
In recent years, there has been an explosion of voice-based, WebRTC, OTT apps like Uber, Plenty of Fish and Viber so WebRTC is definitely here to stay. But I am one of the people that think that this year app engagement will trump install in terms of valuations. And one way to get engagement and increase user time is to add more features and urge the user to open your app.
That urge can have many triggers, notifications about likes, see if a friend has posted a new photo, or even a notification that you have a new message or an incoming call.
While it is not a silver bullet to app engagement such as adding voice and messaging, it is more important than ever today for app owners to add this capability to their apps in browsers and native apps. What it also gives you is one more channel to track and control, to stop abuse, misuse or just track performance. Why would you ever give that information to the native dialer or someone else app?
I think this will be the year of integrated communication for all apps in many verticals, and most of these will be powered by WebRTC on both web and native apps, but end users won’t know, and nor should they.
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