Editor's Note: This review was originally published on Let's Do Video.
The convenience of WebRTC is no longer an experience compromise.
BlueJeans recently provided me with a standard enterprise account of their video service, enabled with their new WebRTC experience. Over the last few weeks, my team has been using it as our primary video for internal, and external meetings whenever possible. Before we share the results of the review, let’s take a quick look at the current state of WebRTC, where we believe it fits into the current UC picture, and what user expectations need to be met.
A Brief History of WebRTC
In the simplest of terms, WebRTC allows developers to use real time audio and video on a website. This means you can have a video call in a browser window. The benefits are obvious and massive. In the context of business communications, it eliminates the need to download an app to your computer. Think of how many different business communications apps are currently on the market, and perhaps on your PC. If you get invited to a business video call tomorrow with a new contact, would you rather download and install yet another app, or simply go to a website and immediately see and hear the person in the browser window?
When Google released WebRTC as an open source project in 2011 many analysts, including myself, were very quickly on board. The idea of eliminating the burdens of installing and managing applications on thousands of PCs in an enterprise environment seemed like UC nirvana. Unfortunately, the WebRTC project wasn’t ready for prime time, and took a bit longer than we expected to get there. At first it was only supported on a few of the top browsers, and even there the experience and functionality left a lot to be desired.
Today, the state of WebRTC is much better. It is at least partially supported on all major browsers and has the expected feature sets on the leading WebRTC browsers. Perhaps more importantly, it now provides a reliable, business quality, experience. I regularly use WebRTC on a variety of video services and I can’t remember my last “bad call”.
So, the big question confusing many users is why services like BlueJeans still offer an app, if WebRTC is ready? The answer is that there are pros and cons of each and neither is a clear winner in all circumstances. However, there are certain situations when the app is superior, others where the WebRTC experience is needed, and yet others where it may simply be a matter of user preference.
In general, I tend to choose using an app over WebRTC for my video calls. This is because video app developers have complete control over their app experience, whereas the browser developers have final control over the implementations of WebRTC. This means that for many video services, the app may have a few more bells and whistles than WebRTC. However, there are growing sets of circumstances where customers have a real need for WebRTC based video meetings, and BlueJeans has acknowledged this by narrowing the gap between their app and WebRTC experiences.
Today’s Real Need for WebRTC
The growing demand for WebRTC is due to two factors; convenience and accessibility. The convenience factor is easy to understand. If you work in sales and want to meet with a potential customer, you may not want to ask them to download an app. With WebRTC you simply send them a URL that opens the video call in their browser. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize there are plenty of similar business scenarios (like candidate screening interviews or customer support interactions) where you want to make it as easy as possible for your guest to join
Perhaps more important is the accessibility aspect of WebRTC. Many business workers may not even have the option of downloading an app. Whether it is an issue of corporate policy, or a technology limitation, downloads are often blocked. The most obvious example would be a workforce using Chromebooks, which are not capable of running 3rd party apps, but all run Chrome (which happens to have the leading WebRTC implementation).
User Expectations for WebRTC
The expectation for WebRTC is the same as the expectation for downloaded apps. Users want a modern, business quality, full featured, video experience. WebRTC was not initially capable of delivering this, therefore, its adoption initially lagged. Today, WebRTC is ready. While it may not provide an exact match up, feature by feature, the WebRTC version of a service can provide a very similar experience to its app counterpart. This, of course, is what users expect from WebRTC.
The WebRTC dream is to have the convenience of joining a video meeting in a browser with one click, without any experience compromise. While the dream may not be currently possible in all situations with all browsers, users generally expect the WebRTC experience to be fundamentally like their familiar app experience.
The BlueJeans WebRTC Experience
The user preferences that define today’s video app experience apply just as well to the WebRTC experience. The new BlueJeans app experience, and its great success with the BlueJeans user community, is a great model of today’s user expectations. Users like full screen video, with simple controls that disappear when you stop moving your mouse. The exact choice of which controls to include and how to lay them out in the new BlueJeans App came from extensive testing and user feedback. The design of the BlueJeans WebRTC experience mimics the app experience as closely as possible.
With full screen video and hidden controls, the experience is far more immersive. While we still are always aware that we are meeting over video, the less reminders we have of the technology, the less distracting it is. The typical user doesn’t need constant access to a confusing panel of controls. They want to make simple video calls. They don’t want to learn how to use complicated video production tools. When they move the mouse, they need the basics like muting, hanging up, and the few other expected options. When provided with a modern, full screen, video experience, users report high levels of satisfaction. This is crucial in today’s environment of user driven, UC adoption. BlueJeans has also integrated new audio features as part of their browser-based implementation. Spatial audio lets meeting attendees better distinguish between voices talking at the same time and provides a level of background noise suppression to reduce distracting sounds.
Through the BlueJeans account preferences, one can easily set up their account, so guests automatically join meetings with WebRTC in their browser as the default choice, without being prompted to install an application. The app becomes a backup and vice versa. This gives users control over how best to connect with their contacts. While it may be sub-ideal that our industry needs two ways to do video, the fact is for now there is a need for both app and WebRTC based video. With that in mind, BlueJeans is making the experience on both a high priority.
David Maldow is the Founder & CEO of Let’s Do Video and has been covering the visual collaboration industry, and related technologies, for over a decade. His background includes 5 years at Wainhouse Research, where he managed the Video Test Lab and evaluated many of the leading solutions at the time. David has authored hundreds of articles and thought pieces both at Telepresence Options, where he was managing partner for several years, as well as at Let’s Do Video. David often speaks at industry events and webinars and hosts the LDV Video Podcast.