WebRTC, threat or opportunity?

For once a geek-worthy conference was held in my backyard, the city of Atlanta. WebRTC Conference & Expo (east) was June 25-27 and showcased some well-known corporate sponsors such Google, Mozilla, Plantronics, and Avaya.

Alcatel-Lucent and Genesys were both present – awkward…?

And how do you know WebRTC has become mainstream? Even Oracle had a booth at the expo.

I went for the Wednesday evening demo session that ran for two hours where companies got to demonstrate their WebRTC goodies in front of an audience. Most of the companies were lean and started by fairly young techies, some came from as far as Spain and Brazil. That fact alone told me that WebRTC is going to be a global disruptive phenomenon. Young programmers dig it, from Silicon Valley, USA, to South America, to Europe.

There were lots of talk about SDKs and APIs to make it easy for companies to adopt WebRTC into existing enterprise apps and mobile devices. There were some very eye-catching UIs during the demos, and the browser of choice was obviously Google Chrome. That’s not a surprise since Google spearheaded the whole WebRTC thing. However, the demos were all similar: in-browser videochat across geographies and devices.

Well, that’s what WebRTC is basically about, right?

Seriously, videochat is boring these days. The basic computer/tablet/smartphone can handle it with ease. Many toddlers are proficient with it already. But it’s still not an easy sell to an enterprise. Just ask all your friends about who uses videochat at work – if their employer even has that capability.

A lot of existing videoconferencing companies sell fancy, expensive hardware along with their solution, and now face a new challenge as WebRTC is injected into the conversation: would people still want to buy our boxes?

If you treat WebRTC as a threat then you are doomed. It is open source (i.e. cheap), backed by Google and Mozilla (i.e. popular), and easy to adopt (i.e. frictionless). It plugs perfectly into the cloud paradigm, in which all your computing needs are served by some massive infrastructure and access is ubiquitous.

The other alternative is to view WebRTC as an opportunity. Rethink outside the box. Soon enough every decent communications vendor will include WebRTC compatibility – how can you distinguish your product from theirs? I think the main battleground will be the UX, much like the Browser War and Smartphone War.

As WebRTC matures in the future, I’m certain its applications will wow us, much like our first contact with the World Wide Web through the Mosaic browser. Don’t just think in the realm of enterprise communications, but that of entertainment, education, and medicine.


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