Think back to earlier in 2020 with me for a second. If, back then, I were to have hit you up to jump in a video chat, what would the preferred method have been? Perhaps Google Duo or Apple’s FaceTime would have been the quickest way to begin and carry out that communication. Maybe WhatsApp would be in that mix, too, but none of the options you would have offered up would have been completely web-based and URL driven. While someone like myself may have opted for a Google Meet call every time back then, most people weren’t really on board with jumping into a call that started with sharing a link.
My oh my, how things change. As the pandemic set in and the majority of us found ourselves needing to leverage video calls on a very regular basis, the natural process of distillation began. While there was work being done on video communications prior to COVID-19, there wasn’t a real need present among most users. Video calls were niceties we all used from time to time, but the pandemic turned that entire experience from a want to scenario to a need to predicament. Companies, schools, friends and families all became reliant on video calling services, and as the dust is now beginning to settle, the people have spoken on their chosen format.
The web won
When sat next to the closed, app-driven experiences from services like Google Duo or Facetime, services like Zoom exploded over the past 6 months. Why? We’ve talked about this quite a bit, but the explanation is pretty clear and simple. With open web-based tech, the ability to simply share a link and allow others to jump into a call is just too simple and straightforward to ignore. With Zoom and Google Meet (and others, to be fair), all I have to do is start a call and send out a link. Whether its one person or 50, the process is the same and there’s no need to see what apps people have installed or not. They can just click the link and the call begins.
Google has even taken this all a step further by adding in features for Google Meet on the open web that were previously app-driven, desktop-only. No longer do you need to install something to blur your background or swap it out with some custom photo. No longer do you need to have an app installed to help with background noise cancelling or multiple layout options. Google Meet is full-featured right on the web without need of anything other than your browser.
At this point, there’s no question when someone wants to hop in a video chat as to what app they do or don’t have. We all just wait for the link. Google Meet, Zoom, etc. Whoever wants to start the call does so and shares a link and we click in when we’re ready to join. The whole thing is so friction-less and simple that it begs the question of why we weren’t just doing this all along. Why bother with apps and ecosystem tie-ins when we can have powerful services like this that simply live on the web for anyone and everyone to grab and use? I don’t care if you are an iPhone user or an Android user, on Windows, Mac or Chromebook: when it’s time to chat, I’m just going to shoot you a link and you know exactly what to do with it.
Sign of things to come
If you ask someone like me, this is just a sign of what is possible with the open web. While I think local applications will be with us for quite some time, I think that for the majority of the things we do on our screens, their days are numbered. More and more I see powerful, interactive, useful experiences happening completely via the web and in browsers. Video chats are just one example of this, but they are definitely a powerful one.
More and more, graphic-based software is moving to the cloud as well with services like Gravit Designer and Figma leveraging broswers for real-time collaboration, editing, teamwork, and design. And these tools aren’t basic and simple, either. Both Gravit Designer and Figma are used by many teams for all their graphic design work across the board and are leaving older software behind in favor of the lightweight, mobile, accessible web-based alternatives.
We now have cloud-based streaming game services like Stadia and GeForce NOW where we are seeing the same shift beginning to happen while collaborative office applications like word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation tools are among the oldest open, web-based tools available that only continue to get better and better with age. Come to think of it, there is little I use on a daily basis at this point that isn’t completely web-driven. If I could get my phone service and basic text messaging to be forced over to the web full time (not connected to my physical phone as it is with current tools), I’d basically have all I need on the web without need for localized applications any longer.
Again, that’s not to say local, installed apps are dying tomorrow. In fact, I think we’re still a long way from things like pro-level video editing via the web due to the source file size constraints, but another decade of bandwidth advancements could fill that gap. But, when you stop to think about what most people use their computers for with both home and work in mind, you quickly realize that Google was onto something when they set out to build a laptop that was built from the ground up for the web.
What has happened with video calls is likely to happen again and again with other services over time. As the web continues to grow in its capabilities, so too will the user base that relies on it to get stuff done. End users care far less about how an app installs versus how an app or service operates. If clicking a link to jump in a call works and is the path of least resistance, that’s what users will migrate to over time. Because of this, the open web will keep having these wins. Maybe not in such an abrupt way as we’ve watched happen with video calling, but in a slow, effective, long-term manner. And in that timeline, Chromebooks are perfectly aligned to take full advantage of the shifting nature of our work and play, and we’re very excited to sit back and watch what happens.