WebRTC Expert Feature

April 17, 2013

Can Google Keep WebRTC Together?

A few weeks ago, I posted in response to a Tsahi Levent–Levi article about whether Skype was vulnerable. This week, he read Chris Koehncke and then wrote this piece about whether WebRTC is an opportunity to displace Skype or not.

First of all, let’s talk about the merits of the argument.  Microsoft has legitimate reasons to be adverse to WebRTC -- some of them are technical and some of them are corporate. Chris Koehncke’s point about the impact of an open-source codec solution being a competitive problem is valid. The fact that it does not include signaling, however, may be its Achilles’ heel. 

The conclusion that Koehncke makes that GMAIL combined with WebRTC is a Skype killer needs elaboration. In reality, Skype already competes with Google Talk and Google Voice; two products Google has left as separate and distinct. Google has pledged to keep both Android and Chrome (separate but equal?). Googlesearch, from the cash cow perspective,  does an amazing job, but when it comes to its other product lines, it’s often about innovating and then abandoning. We can make a case that an innovation like Google+ came about from GoogleWave. 

However, once established, it’s rare that a product gets blended together. Google Voice and Google Talk have to be combined to appear as a Skype-like service and Gmail shares the screen with Google Talk, but they are not connected. For Skype to do the equivalent, it would require a blend with MS Outlook. 

Now it’s possible that the signaling system of e-mail’s MX record can be used to provide the interoperability with other islands of WebRTC. However, if Google treats each product as an island, it’s hard to understand how it’s a replacement for Skype’s in-and-out capabilities. We could claim that with cell phones, Android is the platform for WebRTC to stay over-the-top,  but then what was the purpose of gathering with the industry?

If the goal was really to end the codec wars, then we know that did not go well (see article about codecs).

Google has done a very good job of keeping away from being a carrier. Its fiber is data-specific (if you want to run some voice over-the-top, that’s your affair). The Google Phone is not a direct relationship; it is sold with a carrier. For Google Voice and Google Info, they contract out the telecom services even though their fiber network is second to none. So Skype is not the target to me. 

Then why is it so important that WebRTC is in Mozilla? I think the answer may be in speech recognition.  I don’t know about you, but I am getting pretty amazed at how good Google’s voice recognition is today. Even in noisy rooms, my phone transcribes text.

Now imagine you are working with forms and other things that need your fast little hands on other tasks. WebRTC delivers a superior sample of the voice. The services and applications you can deliver to your smartphone and tablet can make you give up on any other device.  

The view about killing Skype, which was supposed to kill the PSTN, is entirely too parochial. The goal is not to replicate what we had, but to make something even better. 

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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