Why We’re Excited About WebRTC Support in iOS 11 and Safari

WebRTC support in iOS 11 and Safari

NEWS: In the San Francisco Bay area? Come to our Developer Workshop on WebRTC in Safari on June 22 @6pm.

I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to publish this blog post. It was easy to miss, but if you were paying close attention to today’s WWDC keynote you would have seen Apple indicating WebRTC support for iOS 11, which will be available later in the year.

From the early days of WebRTC in 2011 until yesterday, the single biggest outstanding question about this standard had been when will it be supported in all major browsers? Supporters could see that WebRTC was loaded with the potential to change how we use communications, but there was always that lingering sense that WebRTC wouldn’t cross over to the mainstream and be used for mission critical applications until it was supported by all browsers. With today’s iOS 11 announcement, Apple has answered this question. WebRTC is here to stay. This is a major turning point for embedded communications.

The benefits of this news are more than symbolic.

We’ve been providing WebRTC platform services to developers since 2012. During that time we have seen many RFPs and product-requirement checklists from customers that list Safari support as a must-have item. In a lot of these cases, upon realizing that Safari didn’t support WebRTC, customers were able to move ahead with native apps or by asking their users to use Chrome or FireFox.

There are two problems with those alternatives. The first is the spontaneous use case of embedded communications. These are customer interactions that happen on the fly, without prior planning or a pre-existing relationship that would have motivated the customer to install a banking, telehealth, or social video app, or to know in advance that he or she needs to open a different browser to use a web service.

Let’s say you are browsing a new mobile ecommerce site, you see a product that catches your eye, and you want to speak to a sales person to learn more. The salesperson would certainly like to speak to you in this instance. It’s just not practical to ask a potential customer in this situation to stop what he’s doing to download an app or switch browsers. You simply want to learn more about the product you are thinking about purchasing.

Or take for example an invitation to join a quickly arranged WebRTC video call for work. As a Safari browser user, wouldn’t it be easiest to click a link and join the call with no downloads or client installation?

Or maybe you are having trouble with your new Wi-Fi router, and you use your iPhone to call the 1-800 support number. The agent you speak to wants to see your setup and check out what the modem’s indicator lights might tell him. If your mobile browser could support WebRTC, he could send you a link and you could be sending him video in seconds. Who wants to bother downloading a new app when you are troubleshooting a misbehaving modem?

With the new Safari, all of these spontaneous uses of WebRTC will be supported.

The second problem area is that in many enterprises and in regulated verticals such as healthcare and banking, iPads are the standard devices issued and administered by the IT department, who tightly locks down the endpoints because of privacy and confidentiality requirements including HIPAA compliance. In these cases the end-user doesn’t have privileges needed to install a new browser or a new application even if they wanted to.

The new Safari will help solve these scenarios as well.

WebRTC developers will continue to have many good reasons to build native apps, including tighter integration with workflows or business logic, better control over the user experience and interface, optimization for high performance activities such as gaming, building moderation controls for producer environments, notification and presence control, and more. With the new Safari, however, developers now can write a single web application using WebRTC with confidence that it will work on almost every endpoint and for both preplanned and spontaneous uses. Our customers have been waiting a long time for this, and we are excited to see what they build for the new Safari. This is a great day for the WebRTC standard and embedded communications.