So much discussion from the WebRTC community these days is centered on browsers, browser compatibility, browser plug-ins, and the open source angles that have long defined the Web.
Not as much attention has been paid to WebRTC enhancing native mobile apps, which could end up being the “killer app(s)” for this new technology. As more APIs are coming into the mainstream of WebRTC developers, where are the mobile SDKs that will make developing for native applications more efficient and standardized?
Interestingly, Vonage (a VoIP leader I’ve been following closely since 2000), was one of the first major companies to announce they are leveraging WebRTC for their mobile app, for voice and video communications.
Nearly a year ago, Baruch Sterman, VP of Technology Research at Vonage, told Enterprise Networking Planet that his company was using WebRTC to power its mobile Vonage application.
Quoting the Enterprise Network Planet story, published by senior editor Sean Michael Kerner:
“Vonage didn’t originally intend to use WebRTC. But, as Sterman noted, while Vonage was going through the process of figuring out licensing for a proprietary alternative, they began to explore WebRTC as an option. Today Vonage has millions of users running their WebRTC-powered app on both Apple iOS and Google Android devices.
While WebRTC is known as a browser stack, Sterman explained that there is another flavor, known as the WebRTC Native Stack.
“The native stack is the low-level source code for WebRTC, and that’s where Vonage has been making its mark,” Sterman said. “We have even contributed back to the open source WebRTC community some of the interesting innovations that we’ve built around the integration of some hardware capabilities.”
This “ahead of its time” development (and coverage by Enterprise Network Planet) simplified rolling out and supporting the mobile application, since there was minor impact to the company’s network. WebRTC – whether empowering a mobile app or allowing browsers to support RTC – is disruptive in that like other “OTT” services, it runs on existing networks, devices and operating systems.
Developer Platforms Are Key
AddLive, a company recently acquired by SnapChat, offers a full RTC stack that covers all major web, mobile and desktop platforms. Their platform is enabling mobile app developers to enhance applications with their cross-platform approach, promising easy porting to any OS.
TokBox, a Telefónica Digital company, is one of the players enabling real-time video communication with its OpenTok platform, which allows users to add WebRTC to web and mobile applications. Toxbox offers firewall traversal, a low-latency signaling layer, bandwidth scalability, cross-platform capabilities, tech support and multi-party calling.
Real-World Impact of WebRTC in Native Mobile Apps
WebRTC could have a huge impact for enterprises struggling with the pain and expense of BYOD, while also recognizing its benefits. As organizations react to the desire of employees to determine their own preferred productivity devices, WebRTC makes building and distributing apps so much easier, whether for mobile web (browser) or within existing or new native mobile apps.
HTML5 and WebRTC can eliminate native apps, ultimately, but there will still be challenges. Having iOS and Android SDK’s for native applications (which TokBox premiered in early 2013) means enterprises, service providers and developers won’t have to choose.
Performance and reliability may be the gating factor of successful WebRTC in mobile apps. Making video calls with WebRTC can use up a tremendous amount of CPU, so newer and more powerful mobile devices will make a difference. So as more and more devices are upgraded, WebRTC “mobile” will have better odds of taking hold.
For The Developer in You
In my column next week, I’ll write about the co-existence of WebRTC and SIP –for browser and native app use cases. Meantime, one of the best posts on building with WebRTC for native apps comes from Simon Guest – check out his post, and let me know what you’re discovering at the intersection of mobile and WebRTC.