Palo Alto’s Agora and the changing way we talk in apps

i-phoneOne of the defining features of modern life is just how many things we can talk in, or talk to. For a long time the only inanimate object you could talk to—and expect anything to happen—was the phone in your wall. Sure, you could shout at your TV or make threatening noises toward your toaster, but that wouldn’t accomplish much beyond mere catharsis. Now, though, you can communicate in a lot of different ways. You can talk to people through instant messaging, you can talk to them face-to-face on your phone or your computer. You can tell your TV what to do, and tell your video game system to tell your TV what to do.

Even with all that, communication is continuing to change and grow. We’re discovering ways to make our mobile technology and apps fully integrated. Right now there is a slight disconnect between the voice calling function of our phone and the multitude of apps it contains. Companies are working to change that, however, and one of the leaders is Palo Alto’s Agora, a Silicon Valley company that is leading the way for Web RealTime Communication, and expanding the world of mobile tech.

Agora and Communication as a Service.

Neither communication nor service are new ideas, but combining them is distinctly contemporary. What communications as a service (CaaS) means is figuring out ways to enhance communication between parties through a multitude of mediums. This isn’t just a matter of lengthening the string between two cans, but allowing for different applications to all serve as a primary means of communication simultaneously—and to communicate with each other.

This is also known as Web RealTime Communication (or WebRTC), and Palo Alto’s Agora is at the heart of it. Agora recently raised $20 million in Series B funding, marking it as one of the leaders in the field. What Agora does with WebRTC is allow for communications between apps. Many of our apps allow for communication, but most don’t. This kind of communication is voice calls, video chats, screen-sharing, and filed sharing.

Now, you might be correctly saying that your phone already does all that. But does it do them when you have an app open? If you are working in docs, can you also be easily talking, chatting, and screen sharing with someone else on the same doc?  Can you actually talk to a person using the same app from a different phone?

We’re asking this of non-communication apps, of course, which are the majority of them. It is a weakness that we don’t really think about, but there is a disassociation between our phone and many of its functions. When we tap an app, our phones stop being a universal communications device, and become a cocoon. For some this is a relief, but it also inhibits the final and most important uses of our devices.

WebRTC and the Final Frontiers of Phones

So, then, where is this applicable? How can app communication really help? Here are a few key industries in which it can make a difference.

  • Healthcare. Imagine going into a health app and being able to chat with a doctor who can share her screen and all her data with you, just by tapping on an app. Even before biometrics comes fully into the picture, this can revolutionize how we interact with the medical industry.
  • Customer service. What a difference it would make if you could call your cable provider, and while you are on the phone, show them a real-time video of what the cables look like, so they can see what is wrong. Right now customer service is a matter of calling a number and waiting, but with the rise of CaaS and WebRTC, it can become an easy app that facilitates, instead of inhibits, communication.
  • Education. Apps like these can enhance sharing and dialogue, helping students communicate with teachers and with each other. Sharing documents, sending each other information, and talking all at the same time can become a snap, from anywhere.

Our phones will only be fully useful when the communication side and the application side are not longer separate entities. Right now we have phones that can also carry apps. Pretty soon, thanks to companies like Agora, we’ll have full communication devices.

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