While everyone is busy understanding the impact on WebRTC, I am more interested in the impact on Skype.
At this last quarter of 2014 it seems that Microsoft is transforming. Changing from a slumbering incumbent who drifts into irrelevance while making boatloads of money into a powerhouse of innovation and openness. With free Office versions for iOS and Android, to open sourcing Visual Studio and .NET, to… ORTC/WebRTC support.
The fact that Skype is now experimenting with WebRTC in a beta version shouldn’t be a surprise. It was the next step. It might be a bit unexpected – for Microsoft to move that fast since their earlier announcement, but other than that – it was just another milestone in the project plan set forth since the day Microsoft announced considering to implement ORTC in Internet Explorer.
So a new beta of something called Skype for Web should be released in the coming weeks. Presumably opened up slowly to the large user base that is Skype. What we know of at the moment is that nothing has changed in Skype besides the ability to run it inside a browser. Based on that assumption, as well as Skype’s official announcement on their blog, here are my current thoughts:
- ORTC is WebRTC, but it is going to be hard for Microsoft to say that out-loud
- ORTC isn’t mentioned in Skype’s announcement even once
- WebRTC isn’t mentioned directly, but rather as web RTC. Quaint
- Skype already has a large install base. They have no real need to add the browser into the mix. At least not as a standalone client. This is probably a first step in a longer journey for “Skype for web”
- Skype is a VoIP OTT player who hasn’t introduced anything meaningful in the past several years. I’d argue that most Skype users use it the same way they did 5 years ago. Skype for Web isn’t changing that
- Compared to other messaging platform, Skype is lagging and can be seen as the incumbent
- They have no serious developer program to speak about
- No commerce platform attached to their service
- No real monetization besides Skype for Business and PSTN connectivity
- Most of Skype’s competitors don’t make real use of WebRTC today. They live as mobile (and desktop) apps. Google Hangouts is the exception here, as it uses WebRTC today and embeds nicely with gmail
- Skype for Web is most probably a plugin for anything other than IE10 and above. This will not change until mid-2015 at the earliest
- What I am missing in Skype as it shifts towards the web:
- Ability to communicate out of the “comfort zone” of my buddy list
- An API for integration, especially for embedding Skype experiences with websites
- Ad-hoc and scheduled meetings where I can shoot URLs around to participants
- A better UI on Windows 8.1. One that is actually usable
- WebRTC isn’t going to be enough for Skype to stay relevant. It will need to evolve faster and to reinvent a lot of itself