In the ever-changing landscape of the communications industry, it is no surprise that more change is in the air. Earlier this month, Microsoft made the major announcement that its VoIP system, Skype, will no longer be available as a Windows Phone app.
Cutting support to one of its most loved products on its own mobile operating system is definitely a bold move by the tech giant. Similar to the way Microsoft stopped supporting Internet Explorer earlier this year, their latest move indicates how Microsoft’s team feels it is time to focus on providing advanced capabilities for all of its users.
While there is still a version of Skype for UWP (Universal Windows Platform), Microsoft is currently urging its Skype users to utilize the Web version along with a note on the Microsoft Skype support page that reads: "Recently we've begun to transition from a peer-to-peer-based architecture to a cloud-based one. This has allowed us to introduce innovative new features such as video calling." If you want to go straight to the horse's mouth, you can find more details from their blog post, “Skype – The Journey We’ve Been On.”
Aside from the fact that video calling isn’t a new feature, what does the demise of the Skype app mean for the WebRTC communications industry? Are we finally seeing the merger of ORTC and WebRTC and the birth of whatever this ‘superpower’ will be called? Is Microsoft now “all in” and strategically thinking about its future?
The short answer is yes. Microsoft has just announced that one of their most prized assets (or apps) will no longer be available as an app on their phones. They have sold approximately five million Window phones to date. So there is no way they could have made a rash decision and taken this step lightly.
At last count, according to industry figures, about 4.97 million of the 198.9 million smartphone users (2.5%) in the USA are using Windows Phones. While this number is down from 5.36 million a month earlier and 5.47 million in November 2015 (according to Comscore), that is a large chunk of the smartphone market.
Microsoft is also the business behind the Microsoft Windows line of operating systems, the Microsoft Office suite, and both the Internet Explorer and Edge Web browsers. Not to mention, the business’s flagship hardware products, Xbox video game console and the Microsoft Surface tablet lineup. So the fact that Microsoft has signalled they are abandoning their traditional VoIP solution and are going down the WebRTC route is undeniably huge news, because there is now no doubt that they, like us, see a bright future for the technology.
What is clear is that Microsoft’s adoption of WebRTC for its smartphones is a huge step for the communications industry. Even with its current market share, the Windows Phone is a great ‘win’ for WebRTC and the move shows that the guys at Microsoft realize that they can advance more than just their mobile services with new technologies, like WebRTC.
Perhaps the writing has been on the wall with Microsoft’s acquisition of a few WebRTC companies, such as Beam and Talko. There is no doubt that acquisitions like these will enhance the WebRTC development capabilities of the Microsoft team.
If you are unfamiliar with WebRTC, in simple terms, it provides users the ability to add live audio and video streaming to their Web and mobile applications essentially for free. It comes chock-full of other capabilities such as the ability to make phone calls directly from a browser, share documents and contextual data securely, as well as screen sharing, without having to download a plugin or install an application.
As I’ve mentioned before, WebRTC has come a long way in a short amount of time. However, it is important to appreciate that it has also faced its fair share of scrutiny. WebRTC started out as a Google led initiative. The technology was open-sourced in 2011 for close to $200 million with the purchase of On2 and GIPS for their VP8 and OPUS codecs, respectively. Although WebRTC quickly became a shining star among real-time communications professionals, it posed the question of whether or not it would ever become a truly interoperable solution working across all browsers. Mozilla quickly integrated WebRTC into Firefox. However, it took a few years before Microsoft decided to incorporate it into its new Edge browser and Apple has been slow to follow, only starting to show signs of switching in April earlier this year.
Finally, as WebRTC gains more traction in all the browsers and with major platform providers like Microsoft and Apple, it further enables everyday developers the ability to build rich communications applications for their users all thanks to Google open sourcing the technology in 2011. Google initially started by building all of the communications capabilities that WebRTC offers directly in the browser so that users wouldn’t have to download or install any plugins. As it matured, mobile integration was implemented which allows companies like Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp to power audio and video communications for their billions of users.
Companies such as TokBox, Twilio, Sinch and others have built platforms that provide developers a simple set of WebRTC tools to build their applications even faster. It stretches across all industries including healthcare, education, gaming, messaging, collaboration, drones and more.
To put it simply, WebRTC is a game changer packaged nicely as an open-source solution with a vibrant community of developers and companies supporting its growth.
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