Good Morning - You’re Now a Year Behind Cisco in Mobile UC
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Apple’s iOS in the enterprise or the significance of Apple’s announcement regarding Cisco’s Spark at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference on Monday. While Androids hold a dominant worldwide lead in mobile operating systems, if you look solely at US enterprise mobile deployments, iOS represents roughly 70% of mobile devices in use. That is why it was so significant when Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi announced that with the new iOS 10 due out this fall, Apple will now open up its personal assistant Siri to developers along with key APIs for the dialer and address book so that calls on VoIP services could be placed through the iPhone’s address book with a single click. As examples Mr. Federighi mentioned Skype, WhatsApp and, most importantly for us, Cisco Spark.
In August of last year, Apple and Cisco announced a partnership to "create a fast lane for iOS business users by optimizing Cisco networks for iOS devices and apps, integrating iPhone® with Cisco enterprise environments and providing unique collaboration on iPhone and iPad®." At the time, the promises were so vague and nebulous, no one really seemed sure about what they meant. This Monday we found out: It means Cisco is getting a one-year head start on the most important development ever in mobile UC.
1G Mobile UC - Lost in the Wilderness
The first generation of mobile UC can be described in one word: crap. As the major smartphone manufacturers did not provide developers access to the native dialer function on their devices, the UC vendors had to find another way to mobilize their offerings. Android did eventually open up the dialer, but they are still a small presence in the enterprise, and in the early days, Android devices were banned in any organization with enough sense to recognize the security exposure they created.
To work around the dialer difficulty, each vendor came out with a special app that allowed users to make and receive voice and in some cases video calls and to send and receive texts on the UC platform. Technically the apps were fairly ingenious as they would use the cellular data service to exchange signaling messages with the UC server and all of the user’s business calls would be looped or "hairpinned" through the UC platform.
There were differences among the implementations. Some would only operate over cellular voice services while others could use either cellular or Wi-Fi for voice calls. Of those that supported cellular and Wi-Fi calling, some offered the ability to automatically hand off calls between Wi-Fi and the cellular network when the user walked out of the Wi-Fi coverage area. Some extended correspondents’ presence status to the mobile, others did not. However, they all had one very big thing in common: No one used any of them!
For a few years these mobile clients were the highlight of the UC vendors’ keynotes at Enterprise Connect and other industry events, but as I and a few other industry analysts kept pointing out that this was a failed idea that no users were buying into, eventually the speakers moved on to other topics.
In hindsight it was easy to see why this idea never caught on. The UC vendors were pushing an app that could do something the phone could already do, and they couldn’t even do it as well. Smartphones had a great native user interface, people loved them, and now we were offering them a different way to make business calls that offered no meaningful advantage. The UC vendors offered any number of loopy justifications like the need to keep the mobile number private, or the ability to track cellular usage in the call detail recording, but it was clear that users found no value in this and voted with their feet – or their "fingers."
So it stayed for several uneventful years and we pondered what appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle to developing a mobile UC capability with a user experience people might actually be drawn to – then Apple changed the rules of the game.
2G Mobile UC - A Whole New Ball Game
With the new APIs Apple announced Monday, users of any VoIP app will be able to place calls directly through the address book rather than with a separate app, putting an end to the "separate app" dilemma. Those calls will also be tracked in the phone app’s Recent and Favorites folders. As Apple has also opened Siri to developers, users will also be able to ask Siri to place calls for them with commands like, "Siri, place a Skype call to Jack," or simply, "Siri, Skype Jack."
The process of receiving VoIP calls will also be improved. When you receive a VoIP call on an iPhone today through an app like Skype or WhatsApp, you get a notification on the lock screen. With the new APIs, those apps can be modified so that when a call is received, you will be able to get a full screen alert like you get with cellular calls today, and you will be able to answer it with a swipe. The contact card is also enhanced so the address book will remember which service you prefer to call each contact.
Thanks to the partnership that Cisco struck with Apple, they have had the inside track on all of this, and should be able to deliver this integrated capability on iPhones as soon as iOS 10 is delivered this fall. In his presentation, Mr. Federighi made specific reference to Cisco Spark, and as he also mentioned receiving calls to your Cisco business number, we can likely assume this means they will have these advanced iPhone capabilities on the CUCM IP-PBX.
While the VoIP capability was the real eye-opener, access to the Siri capability will have an impact on any UC functions extended to Apple mobiles. Text is the most obvious one, as you will now be able to dictate texts through Siri to send through any messaging app rather than just through iMessage or SMS as you can today. What Apple is opening up are fundamental capabilities that can impact countless functions and services on iPhones and iPads.
So what should the other UC vendors do about this? Well, the simple answer is: Get moving and fast! Cisco is about to launch past you in an area that you have been saying for years is existentially important to UC, and your offering is now going to be clearly deficient to what Cisco will be putting on the table. This is what Proctor & Gamble’s marketing department used to call "Demonstrable Advantage" – only we’re not talking about "whiter whites" this time around.
By the same token, going too fast can be a hazard as well. Unified communications involves lots of different communications (and collaboration) options, and these new capabilities have the potential to impact most if not all of them. Can you do them all at once? Which ones should you concentrate on first? Do you have the requisite programming expertise available to build what you need? Can you make the right decisions regarding user experience design?
After watching the mobile UC business languish for the past however many years, it is great to finally see something worth getting excited about. Apple’s iOS is king in enterprise mobility, and UC vendors finally have the opportunity to integrate it in a meaningful way while taking advantage of Apple’s industry leading user experience. For mobile UC, the world changed this past Monday, and the message is clear: Get on board or get left behind.