WebRTC - Mobile Communications Game Changer or Flash in the Pan?

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WebRTC - Mobile Communications Game Changer or Flash in the Pan?

Came across Erik Lagerway's interesting guest post on Gigaom.com discussing WebRTC and its potential to be a mobile game changer. WebRTC essentially embeds a standard-based real time Media Engine into all of the available browsers enabling real-time voice and video communication from your browser. Erik ponders the future leveraging WebRTC:

Imagine a world where no matter what we use or where we are we could all communicate via video, hassle-free, for free — native video from Apple devices to Samsung devices, from business phones to the TV in your living room, from your car to your home to a beach in Hawaii. That is what WebRTC can do for us.

When it comes to mobile, Google and Apple own it. If these two giants got on the same page with WebRTC and convinced the mobile operators to play along, consumers everywhere would rejoice.

He goes on to explain that apps such as Skype, which is the standard bearer of desktop and mobile communications is essentially a dead-end approach when he writes:
So why won’t Skype dominate on mobile? Skype is an app on a device. It will never win the mobile battle if it’s just a third party application. Even if Microsoft embeds Skype deep in the fabric of its own mobile devices, that only represents a small portion of the market. And I don’t see Apple and Google embedding Skype as the native form of communication anytime soon.
Although I think WebRTC is promising, and I share Erik's vision of being able to video call from iPhone to Android to desktop PC, I think he underestimates the power of mobile apps. Look how Facebook recently switched from a HTML5 browser mobile app to a native iOS integrated app. Some of the advantages going native include: speed, gestures support, and access to smartphone's camera. Of course, WebRTC will also (eventually) have access to the smartphone's camera for each of the operating systems that support WebRTC. However, the speed of native apps over WebRTC or HTML5 web pages will still be a challenge.

The success of Apple's App Store with thousands of mobile apps -- and developers making good money at it too, means WebRTC will have to come up with a way of enticing developers and monetizing their efforts. Why would someone switch from a mobile Skype app to a browser-based WebRTC app that does essentially the same thing? Just because it's cool to run voice and video within your browser? That's not enough.

Perhaps click-to-call within your browser enabling customers frictionless (no registration) calling into a customer support queue might be one driving force. Tango is another strong mobile app that does VoIP, video, SMS, and even in-app social gaming. HTML5 + WebRTC could enable social gaming as well, making it a strong play for developers to build browser-based HTML5 apps for social gaming. There's potential for in-game purchasing from the browser like you see with native mobile games. HTML5 game development, should it ever rival Adobe Flash gaming means developers can write-once and have the code run cross-platform - from desktop PC to Apple iOS to Android to Windows Phone. In theory, any way - and don't get me started on the lack of support for Flash in Apple iOS! angry-fast-talking-tirade

Also, I do think WebRTC has strong potential in web conferencing, especially multi-party - think Google Hangouts - though ironically Google Hangouts doesn't use WebRTC. Still, the ability to send a URL via text, email, or IM to participants and then without having to download and install anything you can join the conference brings a huge upside to WebRTC. Still, I disagree with Erik on the future death of mobile (communications) apps in favor of communicating in your browser using WebRTC.

P.S. Check out TMCnet's WebRTCWorld, for some interesting insights on WebRTC, it's current state, and the future.

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