Owning the 'Big Green Button' for Mobile UC

In this week's No Jitter post, "Mobility Myopia: UC Vendors Still Not Seeing the Light," contributor Michael Finneran takes UC vendors to task over their outdated mobility strategies -- a longtime source of irritation for him rubbed raw of late by their seeming failure to recognize the opportunity afforded them in the recently released Apple CallKit API.

As Finneran has written time and again for No Jitter, such as in the June post "Apple Reinvents Mobile UC," he considers mobile UC that requires a separate app "a total non-starter." But that's just what's been required on iOS smartphones, the predominant enterprise device on which those apps would reside, should a mobile UC user need to make or receive a phone call. CallKit, a framework for providing programmatic access to VoIP functionality, call blocking, and identification on iOS devices, changes that -- finally giving UC vendors a way for their mobile UC apps to use the native dialer.

None of the UC vendors he's met with recently seem too clued in on CallKit and whether or not they'd be employing it, Finneran said. His assessment? "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."

Well, I have some good news to share with Finneran -- as well as, I expect, with many an enterprise out there. Metaswitch, which provides UC and other cloud communications software to service providers, today announced that it's on board with CallKit. It has integrated its Accession Communicator UC mobile app (often white-labeled) with iOS 10 using CallKit, which means Accession users on iPhones will be able to do things like answer calls from the lock screen, put an Accession call on hold to take a cellular call, and get full-screen announcements of incoming calls should their iPhones be locked.

In addition, Accession iPhone users will be able to answer UC calls with a swipe, as well as store and return calls from the Recent Calls list and use voice commands to have Siri place calls. The Metaswitch integration, which will be available in the next Accession update due in the Apple App Store this month, also enables Caller ID, call blocking, and CarPlay mode.

If this sounds mundane, then you've never used a mobile UC client on an iPhone. Absent integration with native dialer functionalities, the experience is less than optimal. While mobile UC apps such as Accession might integrate tightly with the enterprise communications system for seamless chat and video collaboration, the voice component is problematic. Placing calls requires launching the app -- then crossing your fingers that nobody calls during the duration as that forces the UC call to drop. It also means launching the app to see if any calls have been received, and so on. Clunky and not especially intuitive, to say the least.

I spoke with Chris Carabello, senior director of product marketing for Metaswitch, about the integration and why the company decided to move as quickly as it has on CallKit. "Like most of the world, we know that mobility is really, really important ... and we need to make sure our customers are armed with everything they need to compete. UC is a big part of that, and now the trend is trying to figure out how to optimize the UC experience for mobile workers."

Communicating in silos, as one industry watcher commented on No Jitter just this morning, is not an option. "... it's not helpful having to switch from your application of choice to a UC client, we don't have mutual large swathes of time we can put aside to communicate in real-time. ... I feel the winners will be those vendors that don't force us to use specific tools but respect an employee's workstyle: what applications they use, their choice of device and available from any location- be that office, home or Starbucks queue."

Enabling a fantastic mobile UC user experience is a tall order, and being able to control "that big green button" is going to help get us there, as Carabello said in reference to the Apple Phone icon.

However, native dialer integration only partially addresses the issue. "It's a step, not the endgame," as Carabello put it. And, as Finneran wrote, "... the ability to use the native iOS dialer to make and receive UC voice calls is a significant step, [but not] 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."

Still, Finneran gives kudos to Metaswitch. "It's good to see that the industry is catching on to the importance of CallKit," he told me this morning. "Hopefully we'll see a lot more similar announcements in the coming months."

We'll be watching, especially as we near Enterprise Connect 2017, taking place March 27 to 30 in Orlando. CallKit's impact on mobile UC is but one topic Finneran and a panel of industry experts will be discussing in the session, "Optimizing Apple in Your Enterprise." Check out the full Enterprise Connect program here, and register today with code NOJITTER for $300 off an Entire Event pass or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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