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While it seems counterintuitive at first, mobile application developers are increasingly adopting WebRTC for voice and video calling.
In 2014, we reached a tipping point where developing mobile apps using WebRTC became easier than using more traditional methods. Events that contributed to the change included Google taking the time to improve on its WebRTC codebase when running on Android and iOS, and Ericsson launching its own OpenWebRTC open source project with mobile in mind.
Such changes to the WebRTC codebase have made it possible for organizations like online video-calling company Gruveo to replace Flash with WebRTC in mobile applications. "Before that, you had to rely on some crazy hacks to make WebRTC video work on iOS," CEO Art Matsak said on my blog, BlogGeek.Me.
Other companies that have joined Gruveo in switching to WebRTC include Talko, Wire, Switch.co and Be My Eyes. They are all focused on mobile.
So, what are the key reasons for this shift?
1. WebRTC offers state-of-the-art media
Google's WebRTC codebase is derived from its acquisition of GIPS, a company that licensed a commercial media engine to others. Within GIPS' customer base you can find Google, Cisco, Avaya and LifeSize.
WebRTC isn't an amateur's attempt at a media engine. It is the best the industry has to offer.
"The Opus audio codec is a critical piece to delivering the high-quality audio experience that our users have come to expect in Talko. It allows us to send audio at a very high bit rate and sample rate without consuming all of a user's available bandwidth, and its FEC algorithms allow us to seamlessly conceal the inevitable packet losses, which will occur on any mobile Internet connection."
2. WebRTC can easily be ported to mobile
In the past, there have been many complaints about getting WebRTC to run on iOS or Android. The work would take many months and a developer skill set that was not readily available.
These days, it takes one to two months of porting work, where most of it is around adding the code to the build environment used by the developer.
3. WebRTC enables supporting the Web browser in the future
For many use cases, being able to add support for Web browsers at the time of launch or at some future point in time is important. To be able to achieve that, using WebRTC technology end-to-end makes a lot of sense.
Vendors like Talko and Wire have started by launching an iOS application, while publicly stating that a browser version would follow.
4. There is no other alternative
WebRTC has no real competition in mobile. Flash is complex to get running on iOS, especially for real-time communications; a commercial media engine costs more than WebRTC and doesn't deliver many more features; and an open source media engine competes with the much better engine Google puts into its WebRTC implementation.
Relying on Google's WebRTC engineering team for a high-quality media engine is the best choice for companies starting to build mobile applications.
WebRTC and the mobile app
There are those who dismiss WebRTC because of its lack of support in Internet Explorer, Safari and iOS. The reality is starkly different.
Microsoft has announced plans to support ORTC, also known as WebRTC 1.1, in Internet Explorer. On the Mac, many users opt for Google Chrome, which supports WebRTC, over Safari.
The lack of WebRTC support in Safari for iOS doesn't matter, because most consumption of content and services are in the mobile applications. Therefore, with WebRTC finding its way into more mobile applications, do we really care if the browser supports it?
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