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WebRTC uncovered: why it's the future of online communications

Such usage beyond typical video chat and telephony are what most excite Dutton about WebRTC: "It can benefit content creators, enabling them to build tools for gaming, video production, news gathering, and all sorts of things people just haven't imagined yet."

And he believes end users should be able to expect seamless communication in this WebRTC-enabled future, recalling WebRTC manager Serge Lachapelle's comment that "human communication should be as natural in web apps as entering text in a text input field".

Twinsee is a video call service for Android that's based on WebRTC

Twinsee is a video call service for Android that's based on WebRTC

I'm not speaking to you

For all these lofty goals to be achieved, interoperability is a must. WebRTC is in its infancy, and there are many issues to deal with. Johnston says standardising codecs is already causing arguments.

Although audio will use Opus and G.711, which have strong industry support, there's a video face-off brewing—open-source advocates prefer VP8, but H.264 already enjoys widespread deployment in environments and devices. "A failure to agree could cause interoperability issues, and although standards bodies are working on this, it's a difficult problem to solve," explains Johnston.

Smith also foresees problems with vendors that already have successful peer-to-peer video solutions: "Apple's been very quiet on the subject and might be reluctant to include WebRTC on iOS, because it can be a direct competitor to FaceTime and also flies in the face of Apple's app culture. Similarly, Microsoft might have reservations, due to acquiring Skype."

Smith notes that Microsoft, at least, has shown some interest, but support would be unlikely to exist until Internet Explorer 11, and so it will be "some time before we can expect everyone's browser to support WebRTC". Still, WebRTC nonetheless shows promise, and its vision of the future already exists in the present, to some extent, through support in the latest builds of Firefox and Chrome.

"In 2013, it will become available in some mobile operating systems, too," says Johnston. "And so although I think it will be quite a while before all browsers and operating systems support WebRTC, a majority will support it in the near future."