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Native Skype for Business Calling on iPhones Coming Soon

As mentioned in No Jitter's coverage of Ignite earlier this week, Microsoft announced a version of its Skype for Business mobile app for iOS that would take advantage of the Apple CallKit API. The company did not provide an availability date, but given the timing of its past announcements, I would guess that we should see the integration by early next year at the latest.

I have written about CallKit a number of times, in particular noting the impact it will have on mobile UC&C apps (see "Cisco Missing the Mark on iOS Calling?" and "Apple Reinvents Mobile UC"). Mobile UC&C has been frozen in place for the past five+ years as the UC&C vendors have puzzled over how to address a major obstacle with the iPhone, consistently the most popular smartphone among enterprise users. As Apple would not allow third-party developers access to the native dialer, UC&C vendors were forced to develop apps with a separate dialer. While that might not sound like much, it meant users would have to open a separate app to place business calls. Also, if they received a call on that app, they would get a notification and have to open the app to answer the call.

Long and the short, these mobile apps simply weren't worth the bother and users made their business calls with the native dialer just like they made their personal calls. This deficiency in the user experience typically wasn't obvious during the product demo (and they loved to do that demo!), but when and if an enterprise implemented the UC&C solution, the mobile app was nowhere to be found.

Apple's CallKit (available in iOS 10) is a set of APIs that allow third-party developers of VoIP and mobile UC&C to access key functions of the iPhone's native dialer. That means:

Cisco, which entered a partnership with Apple in August 2015, was first out of the gate with a CallKit-powered mobile app the same day iOS 10 was released. Unfortunately, as I discussed in an earlier No Jitter post, that app was for Cisco's fledgling Spark social collaboration platform, rather than for Jabber, the mobile app that works with the enormous base of Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) users. So while Microsoft may be a little late to the party, at least it is aiming at the right target. Cisco reports that it is planning a CallKit-enabled version of Jabber, but has announced no date for that integration.

The other big question surrounding all of this is whether access to the native dialer really changes the game for mobile UC&C. Access to the native dialer in Android has been available for years, but the adoption of mobile UC&C apps on that platform has been no better than what we have seen in iOS.

Mobility has been the most important development we have seen in IT this century, and for all of its other capabilities, UC&C has failed to come up with a mobile capability users are interested in. Native dialer capability may not be the final answer to what users want from a mobile UC&C capability, but it is indeed a significant step in the right direction -- and one of the very few we've seen. There might still be other obstacles to overcome, but without something like CallKit (and the Android equivalent), this train was going nowhere.

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