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Apple's shift on WebRTC technology lacks details

Apple has said it is developing WebRTC technology, but enterprises won't see any benefits in online communication applications until the vendor installs the code in Safari.

Apple has said it is developing Web Real-Time Communications for Safari, the last major browser to support the online communications technology. While some industry experts are praising Apple's move, calling it a step toward a real WebRTC standard, others warn not to celebrate too soon.

Apple is the last of the four major browser makers to stand behind WebRTC technology, which has been around for about four years. WebRTC lets enterprises use customer-facing applications that deliver peer-to-peer audio and video communications on a website.  Technology providers selling WebRTC-enabled software include LiveOps, Avaya, Genesys, CafeX and Cisco.

This month, Apple announced, without fanfare, it would add WebRTC technology to the Safari engine WebKit. Apple hasn't released a timetable, and the company did not respond to requests for an interview.

Until the vendor says when it will support WebRTC, the latest development is not expected to have much impact on the use of the technology. "We already knew that Apple is interested, to some extent, in WebRTC, but this is no official statement of plans to support when and where," said Tsahi Levent-Levi, an independent analyst who follows the technology.

If Apple modifies Safari, more companies are expected to use WebRTC-enabled applications, which will then run on Safari, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox. Together, the browsers cover more than 95% of the market.

"This could build momentum, because it's one less thing to get in the way," said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill. "This is an incremental change."

Today, companies that want to support Safari for customer-facing applications embedded in websites have to ask visitors to download a plug-in. Among the features WebRTC technology brings to a website are click-to-call and video calling.

A 2015 benchmark study by Nemertes Research found that only 4% of the businesses surveyed use WebRTC technology, but 32% were evaluating it. Additionally, projections for the WebRTC market look favorable, with the technology growing to $4.45 billion by 2020, according a study available on MarketsandMarkets.

The positive outlook for WebRTC and the recent development from Apple has led supporters of the technology to pop the champagne too quickly, Levent-Levi said.

"Nothing was really said, but everyone is already celebrating," he said. "What are they celebrating exactly?"

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