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How WebRTC is making enterprise inroads

John Moore | July 11, 2014
Jeff Singman operates two brick-and-mortar specialty toy stores in New Jersey and has wanted to provide an ecommerce website as well. Singman says his two Toy Genius stores, which he co-owns with his wife, offer shoppers a high level of product knowledge and customer service to stand out from other toy sellers. Employees wear lab coats and demonstrate products for customers. Gift wrapping is free of charge.

Jeff Singman operates two brick-and-mortar specialty toy stores in New Jersey and has wanted to provide an ecommerce website as well. Singman says his two Toy Genius stores, which he co-owns with his wife, offer shoppers a high level of product knowledge and customer service to stand out from other toy sellers. Employees wear lab coats and demonstrate products for customers. Gift wrapping is free of charge.

But Singman found it difficult to replicate that brand of white-glove service online. "We were looking for a way to bring that ... shopping experience to the Web. I actually had the vision since 2011, but I couldn't affect that vision."

What Singman had in mind was the capability to reach out to customers via voice and video to discuss toys and show different products in action. That approach, however, would have required customers to download plug-ins or a full-blown application such as Skype. "You're not going to get anybody who's shopping to do that," Singman says.

The Toy Genius has now turned to WebRTC, a set of components that enable real-time voice, text and video communications within supported browsers. WebRTC, an open source project that surfaced in 2011, has the backing of Google, Mozilla and Opera. Since WebRTC places functions such as video chat within a browser, there's no need for the user to launch a separate application or download a plug-in.

That ease-of-use factor attracted Singman to WebRTC. He plans to launch a Toy Genius ecommerce site in late August, with WebRTC operating in the background. The site will use a multimedia communications platform from Genband, a Frisco, Texas company that incorporates WebRTC in its products.

WebRTC Lowers Web Developers' Barrier of Entry

The Toy Genius example illustrates WebRTC's enterprise potential. Outside of retail, the technology has also begun to impact call center and video conferencing applications. Healthcare and education are other potential markets where WebRTC could play a role.

Enterprises and service providers planning to pursue WebRTC face some limitations with the emerging framework. The key roadblock is lack of universality. Widely used browsers such as Internet Explorer and Safari don't support WebRTC, which puts a crimp in the browser-to-browser communication WebRTC seeks to promote.

WebRTC, while still in its early days, has acquired a higher profile of late. Amazon Kindle's Mayday button, which summons live video-based tech support, is thought to use WebRTC. Merger and acquisition activity also underscores the interest. Snapchat, the popular photo sharing service, in May acquired AddLive, a video chat service based on WebRTC.

Singman says the Kindle implementation and merger moves have jumpstarted awareness regarding WebRTC's possibilities. "I think you're going to see more and more implementation."

 

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