Google is taking on Apple’s FaceTime with Duo, a new app that enables users to make video calls between Android and iOS devices. And it’s using its own WebRTC to do so.
Duo, which launched today, is a mobile-only app designed strictly for one-on-one video conversations. Users open the app and load their contact lists, and Duo starts streaming video to the recipient when the call is placed. A feature dubbed Knock Knock enables the recipient to see the video stream before picking up the call.
“To make calls feel more like an invitation rather than an interruption, we created a feature in Duo called Knock Knock which lets you see live video of your caller before you answer, giving you a sense of what they’re up to and why they want to chat,” wrote Justin Uberti, a principal software engineer at Google, on the company’s blog. “Knock Knock makes video calling more spontaneous and welcoming, helping you connect with the person before you even pick up.”
Duo is based on WebRTC – or Web Real-Time Communication – which Google released as an open source project for browser-based communication in 2011 (and which Uberti co-founded). WebRTC was slow to make progress in its early days – Apple finally began to support the technology a few months ago – but it has made big strides in the last few years. More than 950 projects and companies are building products on top of WebRTC, and the number of projects using WebRTC grew by 70 percent over the past year alone.
WebRTC doesn’t require additional applications or plugins, and it offers a higher level of security than some other telephony systems. While video calling is the most obvious use-case scenario for WebRTC, it may emerge as a major platform for IoT applications such as providing real-time multimedia for drones, connected doorbells and ATMs.