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Apple Finally Crosses the WebRTC Bridge

April 13, 2016

After months of predictions and hints, Apple quietly -- and I would argue finally -- put WebRTC into its WebKit open source web browser engine developer release used by Safari, App Store and plenty of other OS X and iOS applications.  The company was the last major holdout to adopt the open source real time communications (RTC) technology.  It's good for Apple and the WebRTC community at large, but the company still has some ground to make up.

Before the community pops open champagne, WebRTC features for WebKit are not in production yet, but just available for developers.  How soon Apple moves a WebRTC-integrated version of Safari out for general release is an open question and dependent upon when the company plans to roll out incremental releases for OS X and iOS. We're probably at least 60 to 90 days or longer before WebRTC becomes an integral part of the production Apple ecosystem.

There are also some open questions. Will Apple implement features such as desktop sharing or data channel use, as a column in NoJitter asked. Since Apple has been all in on the Fraunhofer codecs from day one, video support for H.264 appears to be a no brainer and likely to be a priority as part of the company's larger strategy to make greater inroads into the business world.

How Apple's strategy and roadmap plays into the ORTC and WebRTC NV discussion is also unclear.  At some point the company will have to move from its catch-up status with WebRTC 1.0 into a more active participant into WebRTC NV development and implementation.  At that point, Apple may end up as a key player in influencing the direction of WebRTC NV given the past differences between Google and Microsoft on how to proceed.

Regardless, life is getting a lot easier for mobile developers.  Building "universal" mobile apps able to run in both Android and iOS environments will not require dropping in a bunch of code for the iOS side to add in WebRTC functionality.  This should cut down a bit on the time needed to develop and test WebRTC-using iOS apps, as well as the amount of storage space an app takes up on a device.

Life is also good for everyone else as well, from end-users to businesses. Depending on which set of lies, damned lies, and paid research you wish to believe,  the WebRTC market could reach over $4 billion by 2020.  Apple's open support of WebRTC moves the technology into a true cross-platform  open standard  for communications on par with IP and SIP.   Businesses will be able to deploy voice and video solutions for web and mobile with less worry about having to build and support separate versions  across Apple and the Android + PC world.  Similarly, Apple users will be able to natively access WebRTC-based services via Safari without having to download a plug-in or a separate browsers.

About the only people who might be suffering are parties that made a virtue out of incompatibility, providing customized and tailored services to support both Apple and non-Apple worlds. Any premiums and advantages that accrued for being a bridge across worlds will significantly diminish if not disappear once Apple rolls out WebRTC support into general availability. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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