Tokbox embraces WebRTC to give developers access to Flash-free video chat

Video chat platform provider Tokbox announced support for WebRTC Tuesday, making it possible for developers to provide voice and video messaging in the browser without the need for plug-ins. The news came just a day after Microsoft (s MSFT) went public with its own plans for WebRTC, which aren’t completely in synch with what Google (s GOOG), Mozilla and others have been working on. Tokbox CEO Ian Small told me Monday that his company wants to help make things easier for developers while the big guys duke it out.

Tokbox has been offering developers a way to integrate video chat into their own services with a few lines of code through its Opentok platform, which has been used by more than 50,000 developers since its launch some 18 months ago. Small told me Monday during a phone call that Opentok’s ideal users are e-commerce sites and similar services that need to make it as easy as possible for users to use video chat. “If you want to do a Skype call, people will download Skype,” he said. But no one would download an app or a plug-in simply to talk to a customer service representative.

Tokbox believes that WebRTC won’t just be easier for end users who won’t have to deal with any plug-ins, but that it will also offer faster connections an better video quality.

In that context, WebRTC could be of great help. “WebRTC has a lot of promise and we are very excited about it,” Small said. Up until now, Tokbox has mostly been using Flash on the desktop, and the company also just rolled out a new SDK for iOS (s AAPL) devices.

With its new WebRTC release, the platform will automatically detect which devices and browser platforms users are running — and if possible — facilitate calls via WebRTC. The whole process will be invisible to end users, Small told me, and won’t require any big changes from developers. “The main thing we are focusing on is removing complexity from the process,” he said.

Of course, that’s easier said than done for a technology that has yet to become a standard, with different companies having different views on how things should be done. One of the key differences between Microsoft and Google is the video codec being used for WebRTC. Google wants to default to its own VP8 codec, which the company open sourced in 2010. Microsoft has been critical of VP8, and Matthew Kaufman, principal architect for Microsoft-Skype on WebRTC, told me that it would prefer to give developers choice on which codec to use for their WebRTC apps.

Small said that he hopes that this roadblock will be sorted out soon, adding: “In the meantime, it’s just going to increase fragmentation.” Still, Tokbox felt it was the right time to give developers access to WebRTC for their video apps – even if it might take some time until everyone can agree on a common standard. “There is a lot of promise, but there is a rocky road to get to that promise,” he said.