Last week Google and Mozilla posted "WebRTC: A conversation Between Chrome and Firefox," a clip of a high-definition video chat using WebRTC, a technology that could conceivably disrupt the video call industry and significantly improve communications for businesses and their customers. Many techies are rejoicing, but it's much too early to open the Champagne.
The beauty of WebRTC (or Web Real Time Communications) is that the code is built directly into the browser. There's no need to download a third-party extension, plug-in, or separate application. Users simply employ a standard browser to establish an audio or a video call. WebRTC uses high-definition audio and video, although the quality is dependent on the speed of the Internet connection. Also, calls are encrypted.
In addition, WebRTC makes it easy for developers to include calling capability within their applications. This opens the world of video calling between businesses and consumers. With video calling integrated into browsers, customer support representatives, for example, would be able to initiate calls with consumers experiencing problems with products, or answer any type of question.
Video calls would be a cinch to initiate, just about as easy as clicking on a link in a browser to open another web page. Consumers wouldn't be confused and enterprises wouldn't have to decide among multiple video calling options. Well, that's a goal, anyway.
Google and Mozilla are major proponents of WebRTC, and it just so happens that Mozilla's Firefox browser and Google's Chrome browser are two of the most popular in the world. In addition, Google offers Android for phones, so it's pretty much a given that WebRTC would be baked into Android's Chrome browser.
As with all work on standards, WebRTC is fraught with challenges, especially from Microsoft. Although Firefox and Chrome are the second and third most popular browsers in the world, the top dog is Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Microsoft has said it supports WebRTC, but not the "main" version.
One area of disagreement is Microsoft supporting compatibility with a variety of codecs, while Google and Mozilla are rallying behind open-source, royalty-free codecs like Optus and VP8. Codecs are hardware and software that compress and decompress (encode and decode) data, such as audio and video.
Microsoft wants software developers to be able to choose the type of codec that works best with their applications, such as H.264. The company says the current WebRTC specs aren't up to the job of connecting a variety of devices, not just computer-to-computer browser connections. Also, Microsoft says WebRTC relies on SDP (Session Description Protocol), an open-format for streaming media communications that doesn't work well with non-SDP systems.
It just so happens that Microsoft has a little non-SDP video calling application of its own, Skype, for which it paid $8.5 billion in 2011. Although it makes sense to be cynical about Microsoft's motives, the company actually might have a point with its suggestions about improving WebRTC's compatibility and features.
While Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla have been very vocal about their positions, one computer giant has not: Apple. Apple has its own video call protocol for FaceTime. Steve Jobs said in 2010 that Apple would work to make FaceTime an open standard, but the company seems to have reneged on that. Apple adopts standards when it suits its corporate aims, so it's possible that WebRTC could eventually be embedded into the Safari browser.
Currently, it's premature to rejoice over the inevitability of One Video Calling Standard to Rule Them All.
Alan, Although email, SMS, social medial are utilized more in communication than video, that is because there is no really high quality video communication tool at this point. As you noted it involves a stable network too. I would say, once we have the network and tool ready people will prefer quick video chat to other communication.
Really? I hadn't heard of anyone doing that. I do worry about my daughter's webcam getting hacked and taken over--not someone specifically targeting her, necessarily, but someone reaching out their electronic tentacles and grabbing control of hers because they can. For that reason, I remind her to consider that it's always on -- even though it's not -- and to act appropriately in front of her laptop if the screen's up and the power's on.
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