Why You Should Care About WebRTC

WebRTC is the wind of change

Mojo Lingo has had the fortune to work on some pretty interesting WebRTC projects early on. These projects were all very much proof-of-concept, and they were almost always frustrating, as the various browsers were constantly moving targets while the WebRTC spec was being decided. However, of late the spec has started to coalesce into something that looks pretty close to what, I think, will eventually be “WebRTC 1.0.” That makes right now a good time to start talking about what WebRTC is and why you should care about it.

What’s all this about?

If I had to explain WebRTC in one sentence it would be this: “Telephones and video conferencing baked into web browsers.” This is a gross over-simplification bordering on a lie, though, as we will discuss below.

To be more precise, WebRTC is a collection of standards that allow a web browser to access a device’s camera and microphone without the need to rely on any third party plugins. It also includes mechanisms by which browsers can negotiate direct (referred to in the industry as “peer-to-peer”) connections. This means your phone calls will not necessarily pass through any particular web or telephone service provider; instead you will be able to communicate directly with the other party, browser-to-browser in most cases.

The “without a plugin” part is particularly important. Until WebRTC, any browser-based tool that wanted to use the camera and microphone relied on functionality from a third-party plugin, such as Flash or Java. Despite the fact that most desktop browsers have one of these two available, some do not, and mobile devices in particular often have neither available. Also, Flash and Java are leading sources of browser instability and performance problems. For these reasons, WebRTC being a native function of the browser is a real usability win, and comes with the added benefit of lower power draw for mobile devices.

If you want to go into a deeper dive about the internals of WebRTC, I highly recommend the writings of Tsahi Levent-Levi, who has been ably covering WebRTC’s progress for a long time now. I would rather use this space to talk about what excites me, personally about WebRTC: the Applications.

It’s All About the Apps

What makes WebRTC really interesting, and gives it the potential to change how we communicate in real-time, will be how it is applied to solve real problems.

This post is the first in a series on how I see WebRTC being applied to apps. Look for additional posts regarding the evolution of WebRTC in the coming weeks.

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