Ericsson is resurrecting its WebRTC-based browser, Bowser, to help spark the development of more websites and apps that embrace voice, video and messaging features.
The technology has so far struggled to find widespread success, but Ericsson is hoping to give it a boost by releasing Bowser and its underlying programming framework as open source, free for anyone who wants to use either of them.
The Bowser browser for iOS and Android was first released in 2012 to help both Ericsson and developers better understand WebRTC. At the time it was the world's first WebRTC-compatible browser for mobile devices. The company retired it earlier this year, but has had a change of heart and is once again making it available.
As a vendor of networking technology, Ericsson has a vested interest in fueling as much traffic as possible over mobile networks.
The lack of a WebRTC compatible browser for Apple's iOS is one of the main reasons the company is reviving the product. While waiting for Apple's Safari browser to support WebRTC, Ericsson wanted as many people as possible to start experimenting with the technology on iOS, Stefan Ålund, research manager at Ericsson Research, said in a blog post on Thursday.
Bowser has been re-submitted to Apple's App Store, where Ericsson hopes it will be available soon.
More importantly, the company has for the first time made the browser's cross-platform framework, OpenWebRTC, available to developers. Applications built on top of the framework will be interoperable with browsers such as Chrome and Firefox. Neither Internet Explorer nor Safari support WebRTC, which has limited the technology's popularity.
OpenWebRTC, however, has been used to implement WebRTC on Google Glass and can be used to build Web and native smartphone apps. On phones, native apps are often preferred by users and developers alike over Web apps, according to Ålund.
Ericsson isn't alone in thinking that WebRTC can become an important tool for developers who want to integrate communication features into their apps.
"My view is that WebRTC actually has the wrong name. Because of the name everybody believes that applications have to be browser based, but I don't think so," said Carsten Brinkschulte, senior vice president of enhanced network services at BlackBerry.
Until recently, Brinkschulte was the CEO of Movirtu, which launched its CloudPhone technology in February. The WebRTC-based software platform lets users make and receive calls over Wi-Fi networks using any laptop or tablet.
There are good reasons for integrating communications with browsers. But in a world where many people use mobile phones as their primary computing and communications devices, developers are moving away from browsers, according to Brinkschulte. WebRTC will, therefore, have its greatest impact when it is integrated into programs that run as native applications on smartphones or tablets.
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