WebRTC Expert Feature

June 03, 2014

Apple's UC Moment Lacks WebRTC

Apple's WWDC 2014 turned into a unified communications coming out party.  There's a lot to love about the approach, but there's no WebRTC support to be found, meaning businesses are once stuck with The Apple Way or no way.

Integrating calling into OS X Yosemite is big. Tying it in with Apple's new Handoff feature to provide a seamless handoff for email, calls, text messages and other items is bigger.   Proximity awareness via Handoff is the new thing everyone  (i.e., Android and Windows users) will be clamoring for because it is all done in existing hardware and software rather than relying on NFC and the additional expense.

Handoff enables you to receive calls and text messages on the iPhone with data twinned between it and a Mac. An inbound iPhone call can trigger a Mac screen caller ID and use of the Mac as a speaker phone. A website phone number can be clicked on Mac for dialing via the iPhone's service. 

Adding to the whole UC theme in macro is the ability to start to create, edit email and files on an iOS device or Mac desktop and be able to pick up the process on the other device.

SMS tweaks include the ability to send audio in a MMS-style by simply putting the iPhone to your ear and talking, with the file sent by simply lowering the device.  There are also management tools for message threads and the ability to send multiple files in a chat.

If you want irony, Apple opened up iOS a bit to allow third-party keyboards, other apps to tap into the TouchID fingerprint sensor and the iCloud Drive service to handle all file types other than just Apple's.  It did so while tightly integrating messaging and phone between iOS and the Mac desktop, effectively blocking out third-party applications.

All of Apple's announcements are great news if you run a monoculture of Apple devices.  Should you be like—dare I say?—most of the rest of us, having that sort of cross-connectivity between iOS devices and Windows just isn't going to happen (I feel fairly confident in assuming Mac owners have iPhones rather than Android devices).

Apple's UC integration tricks shouldn't be too difficult for third-parties to emulate between Windows and Android devices, as well as between Windows and iOS devices.  One might argue that most of the basic telephony and sharing functions already exist within WebRTC and require bits for peer-to-peer transfers or twinning between mobile and desktop devices rather than going through a centralized server.

A proximity process for Android may prove to be more challenging, but in some respects is long overdue. My phone should be able to recognize the Bluetooth network in my car and the WiFi network in my house without having to resort to NFC tags and additional overhead, changing behavior accordingly.  If hotels are enabling guests to use mobile devices as room keys via Bluetooth, clearly there is room for software improvement to do more.

Apple's biggest flaw may be not opening the door for interoperability beyond the company's PCs, possibly by using WebRTC as a medium. If it had embraced third-party  (Android, Windows) devices in some fashion, it wouldn't be facing the frantic code rush by developers to deliver a more universal solution. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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