WebRTC and the Mobile Web

Where is WebRTC when it comes to mobile platforms?

[If you are new around here, then you should know I've been writing about WebRTC lately. You can skim through the WebRTC post series or just read what WebRTC is all about.]

WebRTC is a fascinating technology. It is a bold move that takes proprietary knowledge and knowhow and gives it away to web developers. This in turn will bring innovation and new ways of communication as more developers has a chance to adopt it.

While I have been covering a lot of aspects of it, it does seem like most of the effort around WebRTC today is geared towards the desktop domain and less about mobile. But mobile is where WebRTC can truly shine.

Before I begin, I’d like to go to my fantastic 7:

Dean Bubley has an interesting post about RCSe, the telco solution for unified communications. He has a good one liner about what WebRTC is in the context of the wireless industry:

WebRTC is a large-but-silent elephant in the communications services room. It’ll take a few years to hit mobile in a big way, but has the potential to be the single biggest disruptor for the entire industry.

Alan Quayle goes to explain the disruption and change in the actual concepts of what telephony is with WebRTC. You really need to head over to his post to read the list of changes that can be expected. It is an eye opener.

I’d like to take a bit of a different route. If you think of disruptors in mobile VoIP and mobile video chat these days, the forerunners are probably:

There are a few other companies as well, but these are the most notable.

I’ve been talking to such vendors looking to develop unified communication solutions and video calling products. Their main hindrance is usually getting the thing to work on mobile: the form factor is different and the CPU capabilities are much more limited than those of a desktop machine or a laptop. And the variance of devices you need to work with is staggering.

With a technology like WebRTC this all changes – once it gets on Android and iOS, it will make life so much easier to so many developers.

The question remains how it will get on these platforms. And this requires us to look in two separate dimensions: the chipset vendors and the OS vendors.

Chipsets

Mobile is a lot more sensitive than PCs. Doing video calling on mobile means shorter battery life. To overcome this, chipset vendors are pushing video processing into accelerators instead of using pure software. To make this available for WebRTC, the video codec of WebRTC – VP8 – should be accelerated on the chipset level.

Chipset vendors are working on such acceleration but it will take around 2 years of their chipsets to have this capability. Until then, software solutions for WebRTC is all we will have and that will limit the resolution, video quality and battery life that WebRTC services will be able to provide.

Operating Systems

Android

For Android, this is an easy thing. Google will support it. Only question is when. My educated guess would be Jellybean release of Android (5.0), which is due later this year.

iOS

Apple won’t add WebRTC. Not until it becomes prevalent. For them this might be somewhere in 2014 or even 2015.

Until then, WebRTC will be available through third parties as an SDK to embed into iOS apps. Ericsson labs are playing around with WebRTC on iOS already.

Windows Phone

Microsoft already announced their willingness to back WebRTC. They will probably be adding it to Windows Phone in one way or another. I don’t see it happening this year though.

Blackberry?

Blackberry is something of a mystery. Until recently they were off the radar for most of the industry, being considered as a sunk ship already. But that may change soon.

Luca Filigheddu sums it up nicely with his post on the Blackberry 10 OS.

RIM hasn’t made any announcements about WebRTC. I’d say they will be waiting with it.

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Mobile is going to be complex for WebRTC. It will get there, but it will definitely take more time than the desktop.

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Comments

  1. Tomer Saar says:

    On mobile devices, unlike desktop, people like to use apps rather than the native browser. In fact they are using apps more than browsing, in terms of minutes per day.
    I would say that webRTC will become more handy for developers in a form of SDKs to build apps, rather than in-broswer support.

    • Tsahi Levent-Levi says:

      Tomer,
      This is a very good point. What it means in the end, is that the technology will be there for developers:
      - In the form of WebKit that they can integrate into their own app
      - In the form of app builders that use HTML/JS to generate the app
      - In the form of “sending” the user from the app to a web page that uses WebRTC for the communication

      This will replace the need to purchase/develop/integrate/optimize/tweak a specialized media engine and the signaling protocols.

  2. Hi Tsahi

    it could be fun to repost some old articles and review what progress has been made … this is the first WebRTC article I read from your blog and it’s very interesting reading it again :-)

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