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Monday, November 17, 2014

WebRTC, Microsoft/Skype, Apple & Google... some quick thoughts

I'm going to hold myself hostage to fortune here.

This week is the big WebRTC Expo event in San Jose in California. I'm moderating various panels and probably making a general nuisance of myself asking questions and picking everyone's brains about the trends they're seeing. But I'm going to risk making an analytical point in advance, and hope that the next 72 hours-worth of announcements don't make me look silly.

One obvious talking point - and probably presentation point - is around Microsoft's strategy, given its support for ORTC and the recent announcement of Skype for Web. There's also no doubt going to be a lot of talk about video codecs, and the IETF's cleverly-crafted compromise position.

But here, I just want to touch on something else. What exactly do the big ecosystem players want from voice/video/messaging, and how does that impact WebRTC? I've been stimulated by Tsahi's good analysis of the Skype/WebRTC plans, as it's made me realise something quite important:

Microsoft and Apple both seem to want to "own" certain aspects of communications services themselves, before throwing them open to all-comers via developer APIs.

Most obviously, Apple now has:
  • FaceTime Audio & Video for "calls"
  • Siri for voice-concierge capabilities
  • Video/voice messaging inside the current iMessage
  • iMessage itself for text messages
  • The upcoming walkie-talkie function in its Watch ("for a fun alternative to phone calls!")
  • Apple's push-notification service, which I think has the potential to seriously erode the A2P SMS market over time, especially if interactivity is enhanced
And Microsoft has:
  • Skype for audio/video calls
  • Skype for Business (ie Lync) for enterprise conferencing, IM & UC functions
  • Cortana (voice concierge)
  • Qik video-chat
  • Messaging (former MSN, now integrated with Skype)
  • Xbox Live Chat, Messaging & Parties
  • Video Kinect
  • Kinect Voice Command
In other words, both companies seem to view communications at least as much in terms of potential for complete products, as they do in terms of platforms.

Conversely, Google just has a few full-fledged communications applications:
  • Hangouts (including Google Talk)
  • Google Voice (US only)
  • Google Now & Voice Control
(And Firefox has just done a deal with Tokbox to integrate WebRTC conferencing into Firefox as "Hello") 

In other words, Apple and Microsoft are perhaps delaying WebRTC (or seem a bit ambivalent), in part because they want to cherry-pick certain voice/video use-cases for their own branded applications, adding value to hardware devices like phones, wearables and game consoles as well as directly monetising via their enterprise activities. Google seems less-concerned (or perhaps less-capable) of deriving revenue from communications products directly.

It will be interesting to see if this week's WebRTC conference gives further weight and shape to this view.

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