WebRTC World Feature Article

June 04, 2014

WebRTC vs. Apple and Microsoft

As the clock ticks on to multiple WebRTC events this week, I have to wonder if Apple or Microsoft will take a big leap and fully embrace the technology.

WebRTC is a relatively pure and clean multimedia experience when compared to the train wrecks of unified communications efforts over the past decade. It supports browser-to-browser voice calling, video, and peer-to-peer file sharing in Google's Chrome and Firefox browser. WebRTC is open, there are APIs, and it is royalty-unencumbered, so any Web developer can dive in and start writing apps without having to deal with proprietary libraries or license fees. No plug-ins required for the end user, just the appropriately supporting browser.

If there's bad news, it is that Apple and Microsoft don't actively support such radical notions as open standards.  In the past, Microsoft likes WebRTC so long as it will support the company's idea of code and services different from the rest of the open standards.

Then again, Microsoft has a new CEO these days and has dropped the chip off its shoulder of supporting Office on the iPad. Perhaps the greatest advantage the company has is to embrace a role as a true Unified Communications (UC) vendor and embrace WebRTC as a means to selling more subscription services. Exactly how WebRTC translates to adding more Office365 seats is beyond my brain at the moment, but Microsoft simply can't ignore WebRTC and hope it will go away. Embracing it through Internet Explorer won't kill the company and might address some of those long-term UC interoperability problems enterprises have been complaining about for ten years and longer.

Will Microsoft come to WebRTC overnight? No. However, moving to support Office on Android and iOS can't be a one-trick pony. Sure, Lync is nice and makes everyone happy, but large enterprises don't like monoculture. Vendor diversity is a necessity to prevent being locked into a single solution and gouged on the upgrades.

Microsoft could continue to assert a leadership role in enterprise IT as the vendor that plays well both with old school Windows IT and new hotness WebRTC technology. Google wants everyone in the cloud and ignores minor details like legacy systems, software and screens bigger than 12 inches.

Apple is, well, Apple. It has been building up efforts to sell into the enterprise space and this week's demonstration of iOS and Mac integration will raise some eyebrows on how mobile devices should play well with the desktop space. But until Apple shows an open willingness to more tightly mesh IOS with Windows and Android devices, it has little potential to significantly grow market share for the Mac. Again, it's monoculture vs. diversity.

I suppose Apple could discover WebRTC in the flurry of product announcements it has planned this fall, but it is unlikely. Apple is going to do what Apple thinks is best on its own timetable, not on the rest of the world's. Cooperation with standards established by Google isn't going to be high on its priority list.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson


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