Real Time Communications Featured Article

From Consumer Mobile to Business Apps

April 30, 2015

In the beginning, there was the smartphone and it was good. It lead to the app store, which was also good, and then the tablet.  Now the business world is embracing mobile apps for both daily operations and specific applications, with real time communications (RTC) playing an increasingly important role.

The concept behind the app store is simple: Provide a free or low-cost program tailed to run on a mobile device. Users can get what they want when they want from the app store, with updates automatically occurring as needed.  Additional features or more functionality is available at a nominal charge, fitting in with the budget of the individual already paying $50 to $100 per month for a service charge.

A recent Dynatrace survey found that consumers want three basic things out of their apps: Easy access to product and store information; help planning and navigating trips; and the ability to communicate in real time.

Business needs, I would say, are similar: Easy access to calendar and work information; help coordinating meetings, both virtual and real; and the ability to communicate in real time.  The difference between consumer and business apps is that workers are less worried about the expensive of a particular application and more concerned about getting access to the information they need and being able to communicate in real time.  If the boss wants you now, he wants you NOW.

Skype, the original, old-school, pre-Microsoft-purchase company, provided a taste of the RTC experience for businesses with IM, presence, voice and sometimes video conferencing, depending upon the device and bandwidth.  Today's Skype is now part of a business app ecosystem, with Microsoft wiring it to work with Office and everything else.

via Shutterstock

The best example of today's consumer-to-business app world is Slack. The platform/program runs on mobile and desktop, integrating IM, email, and document sharing into one package -- call it UC Plus for the hipster set, and soon -to-be the rest of us. It's available as a free version, with more features available by paying. 

Since Slack is a business app, it does something few consumer apps do: integrates with dozens of external services.  If Slack doesn't have what you want, there are open APIs and hooks to enable your business to build the services you need -- another key difference between consumer and the business app world.

Microsoft understands the role of apps in business perhaps better than any other company.  The company's "Mobile first/cloud first" strategy on display this week at its Build developer conference is repositioning Windows into a service that can be layered onto any device.  "Universal" apps will run on any device and software, reconfiguring to work across any screen from a smartphone to a large screen. 

You still want Microsoft Office in all of its glory? It's all apps, with basic versions available for free on Android and  iOS, with full functionality available via an Office 365 subscription.

Perhaps Microsoft's greatest recognition of the power of the app, especially when it comes to mobile, is a toolkit to port apps between Windows, Android and iOS more easily.  Analysts are a bit skeptical that porting Android/iOS apps to Windows helps Microsoft any since the process doesn't generate an app specifically for Windows.  However, Microsoft recognizes that it is behind the game right now in the mobile market and needs every lever it can to get developers to include Windows on the support list.

Real time communications is a big part of the Microsoft mobile app strategy.  Its new browser, now named Microsoft Edge,  has built-in support for WebRTC and will be able to support add-ins from Chrome and Firefox with some tweaks.  But its most powerful attribute -- and one of particular interest to the business world -- may be in integrating and moving from passive browsing of web content into working. 

Microsoft bills Edge as a "browser built for doing" with built-in note taking and sharing -- hello again WebRTC. People will be able to draw notes directly on web pages and share them with others. It is one of Microsoft's "universal apps" that will run adoptively on anything from a smartphone to the desktop.

With Microsoft getting into the game, you'll hear a lot more about apps for business.  The company wants those apps to run on Windows and its Azure cloud services and it knows how to work with the business world through decades of practice, a skill Apple and Google are still working on.  In the not-so-distant future, the nuts-and-bolts of company operations will be done via app store and the cloud.  Are you ready for that future?

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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