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WebRTC Future Awaits - Even with Apple

October 26, 2015

Over the past few weeks, there's been a lot of speculation on the future direction of where WebRTC is going, with discussions of near-term events -- such as the ability to finalize a specification -- and bigger goals to take real time communications (RTC) beyond where it is today and into a much larger scale. 

Even Apple seems to be getting on board.

To make WebRTC a truly universal experience across all major computing platforms, Apple needs to be officially onboard.  Google lead the way on Android and Chrome while Microsoft is now in the game with WebRTC support wired into Skype and the Windows 10 browser, Edge.   Apple has been following the WebRTC Working Group in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), but hasn't taken an active role in participating or contributing work, but that may change soon.

Just last week, Apple posted a position for a "WebKit Media Engineer - WebRTC" on its jobs website (Hmm,   "You will be responsible for bringing the latest media technologies to the web, with a focus on WebRTC and Media Streams," says the job summary. Qualifications for the position include "Experience with WebRTC, Media Streams, and Media Capture specifications" and "Familiarity with web technologies, including HTML5 video and Web Audio. "  The candidate needs to, "As a good communicator, you want to work with various W3C and WHATWG organizations to help define and refine standards."

Clearly, Apple intends to move beyond an observer role and become more active, with WebRTC (eventually) showing up in a future version of Safari on OSX and iOS, bringing native WebRTC support to both desktop and mobile devices.  Currently, WebRTC is available on iOS and OSX through third party code incorporated into apps and a couple of third-party browsers. 

Apple is late to the WebRTC world, so it isn't clear how much in-house development has already taken place toward incorporating support for it into new OS builds or how long it will take the company to move into deployable product.  An optimist might think the Spring of 2016, but I suspect it will be mid- to late Fall 2016 before there's software ready to ship.

WebRTC expert Chad Hart has an interesting discussion on based on a panel discussion held at the IIT Real-Time Communications Conference a few weeks ago.  He thinks that supermedia, remote machines, and middleware are the next areas where WebRTC is going. 

Supermedia is the ability for WebRTC to scale beyond one-on-one and multi-party video into a much more complex world. Superscale is one part of the equation, being able to move to support real-time broadcasts to thousands and even millions of users without delays and/or using a CDN. My head starts to hurt a little bit thinking about it given the issues in setting up today's CDNs and ensuring quality of service for large broadcasts. 

The other piece Chad puts into supermedia is doing real-time processing of media -- what I once termed as SmartVoice.  Being able to analyze what is being said through emotion detection by looking at tone of voice and doing a quick text-to-speech (Like Skype Translate does now) with the ability to examine key words in real time.  Virtual reality is interesting too; GENBAND also did a demo with a virtual classroom using WebRTC and VR at its spring user's conference.

Everyone loves Internet of Things (IoT) and WebRTC makes a quick drop in to add audio and video to remote machines.  Chad didn't discuss how WebRTC's data channel might fit into the bigger picture.  IBM is very gung-ho on using the data channel in IoT to report non-streaming data and I think WebRTC data channel usage is one of the "surprises" we'll see in the future beyond the obvious voice/video apps.

Middleware is the area of largest potential for future WebRTC apps.  After all, what do you do to store all the streaming audio and video? How do you process it in real-time and as a Big Data "set" to gain actionable intelligence?  There's a whole world of back-end/cloud opportunities to take raw WebRTC media streams and process them, adding value for customers and incremental profits for providers.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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