Microsoft, Apple and WebRTC in 2016

07/04/2016

There’s progress, but the real action will be in 2017.

Want to run WebRTC on anything? Check out my free WebRTC Device Cheat Sheet.

There has been a lot of chatter lately around Apple’s snail-like progress in supporting WebRTC and Microsoft’s announcements at their BUILD conference. I am still left under-impressed but positive and confident. Here’s why.

WebRTC on Safari and Microsoft Edge

Apple and WebRTC

Let’s start with Apple. The only official statement we will get from Apple will be “we have WebRTC”. Question is when, for what and if at all.

We have indications of progress in Apple, and Alex is keeping us updated on the goings with Apple and WebRTC.

I think Itay Rosenfeld  is making a good case why Apple needs WebRTC more than WebRTC needs Apple.

So we know WebRTC is of interest to Apple and we know it is being added to Safari.

We know one more thing. Apple is actually trying to refresh and update its Safari browser. Dare I say “modernize” it. They even recently started a Technology Preview for Safari, joining the rest of the gang of browser vendors to showcase their upcoming plans and intentions. That doesn’t include WebRTC, but WebKit indicates WebRTC as “in development” – and WebKit is the rendering engine used by Safari.

Will Safari include WebRTC? Yes.

When? My guess is end of 2016.

What will it include? WebRTC. H.264. No VPx “nonsense”.

Where? On Mac OS X, but not on iOS. That one will come in 2017.

Microsoft’s Romance with xRTC

Microsoft added ORTC to Edge. I shared my view about Edge already. To sum it up – great browser. No adoption.

To date, there has been little adoption of Edge/ORTC by vendors. If my memory serves me right, adopters include Twilio, &yet and Frozen Mountain. That’s less them impressive. And Microsoft knows that.

The problem here isn’t ORTC. It is Edge. And Microsoft seems to miss that minor detail.

At the recent Microsoft BUILD conference, a few announcement were made (thanks @hcornflower for the tip):

So. “150 million” monthly active devices. But no monthly minutes as in their last disclosure. I wonder what monthly active means and how many of them open it up just to get to IE when Chrome doesn’t work. I know that’s how I use it to get to a Silverlight site that my kid wants to use.

I guess this number was high and positive that the managers at Microsoft decided to focus on it instead of the more important number of average use time per user. This led them to this decision:

  1. Adding WebRTC and not ignoring it with an implementation of only ORTC. At long last, they got sense and decided to make it easier for developers to support Edge instead of having developers look at the abysmal market share of Edge. The challenge they face is that people who switch to Windows 10 opt for Chrome over Edge more often than not, and in the enterprise die hards stick with IE. Until this trend changes, there’s a real issue here
  2. Supporting H.264, and not only their interanl H.264UC proprietary codec. This makes sense, as Chrome is adding H.264 and Firefox is already supporting it
  3. VP8 is “under consideration”, so we will have it after H.264. Probably somewhere into 2017. Too late
  4. No VP9. With current development speeds, I can see VP9 getting adopted en mass in many use cases and Microsoft Edge staying behind, with no Edge

It would have been better to just add WebRTC to IE11 in parallel than to entice users to switch altogether to Chrome.

When will vendors need to revisit Edge when it comes to WebRTC? Not before Q4 2016.

Microsoft Skype

Skype is interesting. Late to the market. 300 million active users. A lot, but unimpressive if you compare to the leading consumer communication services that are out there.

Skype for Web is what Google Hangouts did the first two or three years of WebRTC’s existence – took components of the WebRTC implementations, modified it to fit their needs and made a plugin for Hangouts out of it. Until they just made it “native” to the browser when they could.

As written in a recent comment I’ve read – they should have done this 5 years ago, but better late than never.

The more interesting part here is the newly minted Skype SDK. I think this is Skype’s third attempt at an SDK – there may have been more. Previous ones were failures. Not because of lack of adoption, but rather because the way developers were treated. This doesn’t bode well for this round. Especially not if you couple it with the current numbers and the size of Skype.

That said, I can easily see Lync/Skype for Business enterprises adopting the SDK to deal with customer support related requirements, taking a bit of the market from WebRTC PaaS vendors. To go beyond this use case, it will take more effort from Microsoft.

The Microsoft Skype for Web and SDK initiatives need to be viewed in the light of other players as well.

Cisco Spark

Cisco Spark (along with their Telepresence and UC offering) goes head to head against Lync/Skype for Business.

Cisco made several interesting moves lately:

  • Acquired Tropo, to beef its Communication APIs and integrate them with Spark
  • Acquired Acano, which fits nicely into high-end paying customers who use WebRTC
  • Acquired Synata, to offer better search capabilities to Spark, to better compete with Slack
  • Created the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, and placed $150 million to developers building use cases on top of Spark

That’s a lot of milage to go against Skype for Web and the Skype SDK.

You can easily say that when it comes to publicizing and marketing their investment in communication services and enables, Cisco is ahead of Microsoft.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is a shadow of what it can be when it comes to usage.

As a platform, it has it all. Everything you need to communicate, at a fraction of the cost of other solutions or for free. We use it daily at testRTC – both internally and to host meetings with customers and potential customers. We have no incentive to switch to anything else.

Hangouts adopted WebRTC from the beginning. First by embedding the WebRTC stack into the Hangouts plugin, using the components of WebRTC that it could, until it was able to just use WebRTC natively in Chrome. It still runs as a plugin on other browsers, but I assume that will change when WebRTC will be supported with all of the nuances of Hangouts.

What Hangouts is lacking is the traffic and the APIs to go along with its service. I am assuming Google are aware of it.

Apple FaceTime

Apple has FaceTime. Its proprietary service that should have been standardized at some point.

I’ll be surprised if Apple did anything interesting or serious when it comes to connecting FaceTime to WebRTC or adding an SDK to it. Or god forbid, let the poor people of the world who use Android – or a 5 year old Windows PC, connect to FaceTime.

Slack

Slack just added voice support with WebRTC and intends to add video. I’ve written about Slack a few times before, and how WebRTC is a logical investment for them. If they add integration points in their API that can access their real time communication capabilities it might become a very interesting player in the SDK/API space.

The real question in this case: Will a vendor using Slack continue using Skype in the long run?

Facebook and WhatsApp

Facebook Messenger uses WebRTC. WhatsApp somewhat uses it.

Skype has 300 million monthly active users. That’s way smaller than WhatsApp’s billion and Messenger’s 800 million. I am assuming there’s more voice and video calling happening on Skype on average per user than on either Messenger or WhatsApp, but the trend is probably towards Facebook and not Microsoft here.

The reason Facebook is so strong here is their new initiatives towards enabling businesses connect with their user base – the Facebook user base directly, which is the largest social network at the moment. If they want, they can throw in voice or video interactions with an SDK on top of it.

WeChat, LINE, ooVoo and Viber

All have integration points. All heading in multiple directions for monetization. Be it businesses connecting to their user base, market places, digital currency or bots.

Leveraging Skype as an SDK means you want their reach and users base. But all of these messaging plaforms have their user bases in the hundreds of millions of active users as well. They essentially compete over similar mind share and budgets of enterprises.

What’s in store for us in 2016?

More chatter and talks about Apple and Microsoft, but little in the way of progress by developers making use of Edge or Safari WebRTC capabilities. That will wait for 2017.

For Skype, there’s a challenge here, but also an opportunity. They can leverage WebRTC, focus on developers and come with use cases and success stories that will be hard to compete against. Microsoft is doing a lot already in this space, but there’s a lot more they need to be doing when you look at the competition they have.

 

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Responses

Brian Pulito says:
April 8, 2016

Great article Tsahi! There is no doubt that the entry of Apple into the WebRTC family will have a huge impact on adoption. This is great news for all of us who work in this space.

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Detlev Artelt says:
April 14, 2016

That is good news and a great post.

Thanks Tsahi

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