WebRTC World Feature Article

November 20, 2012

Mobile WebRTC -- Fact or Fiction?

WebRTC – or Web Real-Time Communication – is one of those terms that is rapidly becoming a…buzzword. This means that it is becoming real but it also means that the hype is now outrunning the reality. That is OK with us – all good technology goes through a buzzword phase – it is a kind of tech coming-of-age period. The hype comes from the promise – WebRTC is supposed to deliver native browser-based voice calling, video chat and peer to peer (P2P) file sharing without the need for any third party browser plug-ins. At the end of the day, it is instant messaging without the Instant Messenger app.

When you think about it, if you happen to be sitting at your desktop or using your laptop in your home or at the office how difficult is it really to simply use IM instead of going through the browser to accomplish these tasks? More than anything, WebRTC simply makes it easier to always stay in the browser, and it is certainly true that for many of today’s users this is what they do – open the browser and sit in it all day. Though the functionality exists (through IM) we want to indulge our inner laziness, hence WebRTC, and its growth to buzzword status.

Now let’s take ourselves out of the home and office and make ourselves mobile (whether connected through Wi-Fi or cellular, and more specifically on the cellular front, through LTE). Here we have both Skype generically across platforms, and of course FaceTime, which no Apple user would prefer not to use. FaceTime works great, and in truth so does Skype. But both offer limited functionality relative to the entire anticipated scope of functionality WebRTC puts out there. Or at least a scope of functionality as defined for it through the current W3C standards specification – which is in fact still in a state of flux (Google, Mozilla and Opera support it, Microsoft doesn’t – where Apple is on it is really an open question).

Do mobile users really want to open up a browser session to handle the suite of communications capability WebRTC will offer – most likely at a somewhat compromised level of responsiveness, compared to the high level of responsiveness users already associate with Facetime and Skype? We doubt it. If there is one thing we can be sure of it’s that mobile users thrive on responsiveness and hate anything that offers up even a hint of delay.

In today’s world the mobile browser – no matter who’s - has nowhere near the efficacy or speed of native mobile apps (or hybrid HTML5-based Web apps – which are entirely different than using a browser). We can anticipate that for the foreseeable future such communications will remain the domain of the native or hybrid mobile app. And we can probably expect this to remain the case for at least several years.

Ultimately, however, the beauty of the browser approach is that the user can connect with any other user no matter what devices or operating systems are being used. WebRTC becomes a de facto cross platform solution and it becomes a solution the user never has to think about. Simply fire up the browser and open up a WebRTC session! What’s there not to like?

Well, as we noted above, it’s all about the responsiveness. WebRTC will require full blown LTE or it simply will not be tolerable to use. That bodes well for those of us in populated urban areas, and much less so for those who find themselves in the many regions of the country where 4G service is not available. There is Wi-Fi of course, and hotspots are becoming readily available in these more outlier areas.

Our take on it is that mobile WebRTC is fiction today and will remain so for at least 24 more months. Beyond that, which should parallel exactly when WebRTC ceases to be a buzzword and instead becomes a truly pervasive and efficient service, it will become mobile reality as well.

The mobile pioneers among us should put it to use as quickly as possible either way!

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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