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Mobility Myopia: UC Vendors Still Not Seeing the Light

"...and we've got this great mobile app!"

Every time I hear that statement during a UC vendor presentation, my stomach drops. My mom taught me to be polite, so I bite my tongue to keep myself from saying, "The very fact that you have a 'mobile app' ensures that the solution you are pushing has virtually no chance of success, and the fact that you would be so delusional that you think it's 'great' only confirms that you are completely out of touch with reality."

I am tempted to ask such speakers if they actually use these mobile apps on a regular basis to confirm that they are "great," but I'm pretty sure I know the answer to that one.

Same Old Same Old
I have been tracking the mobile UC market for more than 10 years now, and the amazing thing is that in all of that time we have seen virtually no meaningful developments from UC vendors relative to their mobile products. We have seen lots of cosmetic upgrades, but the basic modus operandi remains unchanged: Rather than just using the phone the way it was meant to be used, the user is supposed to open a separate app to make mobile UC calls. Further, when a user receives a call, he or she gets a notification and then has to unlock the phone to open the app to answer -- all the while hoping the caller doesn't hang up in the meantime.

I feel compelled to describe this inane procedure because it is highly likely that you have never seen anyone actually do it -- and, frankly, you probably never will!

When you do point out this obvious disconnect from reality, the vendor typically responds by citing some obscure use case involving a need to keep the mobile number private. Or, the vendor will suggest that while this procedure might not be sensible for routine calls, it can be useful in "special cases" like joining conference calls -- something that the native interface on most smartphones can do anyway.

Now the vendors clearly know all of this (and most of them have acknowledged as much to me in private, usually after a couple of glasses of wine), but they insist on perpetuating the charade in their product literature and to show it off in demonstrations. Frankly, the mobility capability does make a good demo, but the idea quickly goes down in flames when the IT guys show it to their users (busy business people all).

Shortsighted Vision
Having watched this circus for better than a decade, I've concluded that the UC vendors have simply given up on ever offering anything meaningful in terms of a mobile capability to enhance their offerings. The irony is that they continue to laud the success of the mobile market in their product presentations and point to the fact that the mobile experience is what customers want. This is ironic, because they're right -- the mobile experience is what users are looking for, but that's not the experience the UC vendors are delivering. Theirs is the experience users avoid because it is disconnected, awkward, and offers no offsetting benefits.

While the UC vendors recognize the importance of delivering a stellar user experience, they persist in pitching 10-year-old ideas that have consistently failed, and appear to be oblivious to any of the new developments that might actually help them turn this situation around.

I'm talking particularly about CallKit, the new set of Apple APIs that will allow VoIP and UC apps to access key features of the native dialer in iOS devices (Apple only talks about "VoIP," but these APIs are available to everyone, so UC vendors can make use of them as well). While I brought up CallKit with each of the UC vendor reps I met with last week and inquired about their companies' plans to employ it, only one even recognized the name!

CallKit Conundrum
The one who did was a Microsoft product manager, when I chided his company for developing a CallKit-enabled app for Skype but not for Skype for Business. He assured me that a Skype for Business version is in the works for preview in the not-too-distant future. That said, I listen in on all of the regular Skype for Business analyst calls and I've not heard any reference to this impending support. At any rate, I took comfort in the news -- at least someone is paying attention.

Cisco too has a CallKit-enabled application. However, it is for Spark rather than the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) client, despite all its millions of users (see related article, "Cisco Missing the Mark on iOS Calling?") . At this same conference, my fellow UCStrategies and No Jitter contributor Dave Michels of TalkingPointz posited that while Spark is struggling to gain traction, going forward it is the "glue" that will bring together CUCM, WebEx, and the rest of the Cisco UC&C/social collaboration portfolio. If so, I can see Cisco pushing CallKit-enabled capabilities for CUCM users even further into the future.

Not surprisingly, where we have seen activity on the CallKit front is from companies that actually are committed in more than just words -- those being the consumer-focused companies WhatsApp and Facebook (in Facebook Messenger). Now that Facebook is targeting the enterprise collaboration space with Workplace, I'm betting we see CallKit popping up there before we see it from most of the UC vendors.

While the ability to use the native iOS dialer to make and receive UC voice calls is a significant step, I do not think that it is a 100% fix for the challenge UC vendors face in finally becoming relevant in mobility. Voice is only one medium in UC, and a meaningful offering will need to address the entire range of UC&C capabilities with a stellar user experience. I guess that before UC&C vendors get around to that realization, they'll need to learn the name "CallKit."

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