WebRTC Will Not Take Off Until All Major Browsers Support It

google-webrtc-logoRiding on the heels on the most recent WebRTC Expo, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the current status of the WebRTC movement, the progress the industry has made and where vendors are focusing their energies and investments. My conclusion is that while there have been a number of impressive WebRTC implementations, progress has not been as fast as most of us would like, and the main reason for this stall is the lack of adoption by major browser manufacturers.

To recap, today we have Google Chrome leading the charge with full support for WebRTC, Mozilla Firefox having implemented the majority of WebRTC features, and a number of vendors releasing plugins and SDKs that allow native app development with WebRTC features on mobile and desktop platforms. However, none of these plugin based or app based solutions offer the ubiquitous access to communication that WebRTC promises. Having to install a plugin or app creates friction in the user experience that will prevent mass adoption.  This may work for enterprise applications where all of the endpoints are the under control of IT, but it will not work for consumer applications at internet scale.  Additionally, this route is very expensive, requiring multiple solutions for all the different desktop and mobile operating systems.

However, when WebRTC is implemented in the browser, it creates an elegant and simple experience for the user.  Anything from video chatting with your friends, getting instant contextual customer support based on the product you’re currently looking at, or collaborating over a document or task becomes as simple as clicking a button on a webpage or web app.  It’s frictionless, contextual and easy.  Additionally, companies are able to leverage Javascript developers to build these solutions, instead of telecom engineers, resulting in faster time to market and huge cost savings — truly delivering on the vision of WebRTC.

While Chrome and Firefox together command about 55 – 60% of the browser market, this is not enough to deliver on WebRTC’s potential.  We need all the browsers to adopt the standard before we will truly see this technology start to provide large scale value.  However, I am encouraged that this last week, there was great progress when a consensus was reached to support both H.264 and VP8 as mandatory codecs in the spec. This signals that perhaps Microsoft and Apple can finally get onboard with WebRTC and we may finally see the ubiquitous access to video and audio technology that only the browser can deliver to billions of users.

I truly hope the industry realizes this simple truth, so that we start focusing our efforts on moving the browser manufacturers towards implementing the full WebRTC 1.0 spec, as quickly as possible.  I’d love to hear any feedback or ideas on how we can ensure that this will happen in 2015.