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Apple Jumps On the WebRTC Bandwagon

Excitement is in the air! Apple has given its seal of approval by placing WebRTC into development for WebKit, the engine that powers its Safari browser.

This is not the type of announcement you would expect to come from Apple. It didn't come with any big press releases, nor artists performing hit songs. Apple simply placed the notice on the WebKit status page for all to see.


As many No Jitter readers know, WebRTC as a technology, in simple terms, gives you the ability to add live audio and video streaming into your Web and mobile applications essentially for free and without forcing a user to download a plugin or install an application -- just a little bit of tech magic makes it all possible via HTML5 and JavaScript. It comes chock-full of other capabilities, too, such as the ability to make phone calls directly from your browser, share documents and contextual data securely, and do screen sharing.

WebRTC, which started as a Google-led initiative, has come a long way in a short amount of time. However, it has faced its fair share of scrutiny, much of which revolved around feet-dragging by major browser vendors, namely Apple and Microsoft, to support the technology. With Microsoft's recent commitment to support WebRTC in the Edge browser, Apple became the remaining laggard. And without Apple's commitment, doubt and fear were common among companies and organizations looking to incorporate WebRTC in their products and services.

As the fight for WebRTC adoption in Apple's Safari browser began to heat up, a few industry participants decided to give Apple a helping hand. A group comprising Ericsson, Igalia, Centricular, and Dr. Alex Gouaillard, an independent WebRTC expert, started an initiative to bring WebRTC to WebKit. We can't say for sure the impact this initiative had on Apple, but it has been clear to those who closely follow the industry that the company has been quietly integrating WebRTC for some time now and we have been anticipating that WebRTC would make its way into the WebKit eventually.

But make no mistake: Apple's commitment to WebRTC is a big step, and we are ecstatic to witness this considerable milestone.

On to the Codec
Now that Apple is on board with WebRTC, the next big question most will ask is: Which codec will Apple choose to support first? Based on Apple's history, H.264 is the obvious choice... since FaceTime and other of its services run on H.264 and the widely adopted MPEG format, Advanced Audio Coding-Enhanced Low Delay, or AAC-ELD.

In WebRTC's early days, industry participants engaged in strong debate around H.264 vs. VP8 as the preferred codec. In November 2014, the IETF RTCweb working group announced that browser vendors would support both the H.264 and the VP8 codecs. With the release of Chrome M50, developers can implement WebRTC video chats using H.264 "behind a flag," which means those who are interested in experimenting with this functionality can enable it.

Now that all the vendors support H.264, and streams across browsers don't need transcoding, WebRTC should work out of the box. We can only assume that the added support for H.264 in Chrome M50 was a driving force behind Apple formally putting WebRTC into development for WebKit.

Who can say for certain? What we do know is that the industry has been waiting for this... well sort of. Most early adopters and experts in the industry knew that this day would come and it was only a matter of time. Those that dared to be innovative early on and embraced WebRTC have a head start on their competition.

It's expected that the WebRTC market will reach $4.45 billion by 2020, at a compound annual growth rate of 51% from 2015 to 2020, according to research by MarketsandMarkets. In 2015 we saw more than $1 billion in funding go to WebRTC-related companies and over 40 mergers and acquisitions take place. Early adopters will be the first to reap the rewards of this growth.

Now we have official support from all the major players -- Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, and Apple -- further cementing WebRTC's longevity. We don't have a timeframe for when Apple will fully support or implement WebRTC features such as the desktop share or DataChannel, but now we have proof that something great is baking and it smells like warm "Apple" pie.

It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out now that Apple has jumped on the WebRTC bandwagon. Over the past five years, the WebRTC community has unified in the effort to navigate through major hurdles and obstacles while evolving into a stronger entity. With Apple on Team WebRTC, the climate is even more ripe for growth. We are enthusiastic about where this momentum will take us.

Welcome to the party Apple!