WebRTC is surrounded by an inordinate amount of controversy, even for our often conflicted industry.
For a fun back and forth on the current state of WebRTC, please check out my recent video podcast with fellow analyst Dave Michels where we discuss whether or not WebRTC is even “real”.
With this in mind, I was very interested in attending the recent WebRTC Expo in Miami to learn more. The first thing I learned is that the number of companies working with WebRTC continues to grow. In a few years it has gone from a beta technology, used in beta applications, mostly offered by experimental vendors, to an element in countless real offerings and products.
For those who don’t know, WebRTC is a technology capable of supporting real time communications (audio/video/file sharing) within a web browser. Obviously, the potential of enabling videoconferencing on every web enabled computer, without a download, is extremely appealing. Unfortunately, it is not supported on all browsers, and is not consistently implemented on the browsers that do support it. This was a bit of an elephant in the room at the conference. If part of the advice for WebRTC developers is to also develop a Flash based version for Internet Explorer, you know something isn’t right. I don’t blame the developers, they are doing what they can to use WebRTC where appropriate and possible, and making due with alternatives where WebRTC is not available. But you start to see why Dave and I sounded so frustrated with the state of WebRTC in that last podcast.
Despite the elephant in the room, it was clear at the Expo that a lot of work, and rapid development, is still happening with WebRTC. The Expo featured a mix of business and technology related presentations from developers and vendors, including a keynote presentation from Serge Lachapelle, Google’s WebRTC Project Manager. He shared an interesting mix of deep dives into what makes it work, and big picture history and future goals for the project. Unfortunately, all his good work only goes as far as WebRTC’s implementation into Chrome. The other browser vendors can choose to use Google’s open source code, or use a modified version, or not use it at all.
It was also a treat to hear Alex Elefthaeriadis, Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Vidyo, explain how he is working to bring scalability to WebRTC, much in the same way he brought it to H.264. What I found most interesting from the remainder of the sessions were the numerous real world examples of challenges and successes experienced by WebRTC developers as they work with this new technology. Everything is a learning experience.
After the sessions, the exhibit hall area was opened up, and I was able to chat with a surprisingly long list of vendors in this very new space. Very cool to see the varying approaches to dealing with the inherent WebRTC challenges, and to see developers sharing their experiences. At the end of the day, it is starting to feel like WebRTC is to the industry what Telepresence was a few years ago. Everyone loves to argue about it, no one can agree on its definition, some people say it isn’t even a real thing, yet somehow it acts like some sort of driving force for developers. One thing for sure, it is only going to get more interesting in the near future.