Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Viber: a VoIP app that won't shut up
Viber for Android finished its closed beta testing phase. The open test version has made it to the Android Market.
Free calls and SMSs
Viber is a VoIP app that lets you call and SMS other Viber users for free. No need to sign up, because your phone number is your account name. To make sure others don't abuse your number Viber sends you a verification code by SMS. That SMS never arrived on my phone, but the backup method (giving you the code in a phone call) worked.
Calling and texting works as expected. Sound quality is comparable to VoIP apps like CSipSimple and much better than Skype, Nimbuzz, or fring. It almost makes you forget the horrible purple interface and lack of video calls.
Calls consume 0.25 MB per minute each way. Half a megabyte per minute adds up to 30 MB per hour, so even without an unlimited data plan it can work out cheaper than regular phone calls. When you're not making calls Viber uses very little data, but some bytes trickle in the background to keep the connection alive. And it does stay alive, whether you like it or not.
Won't shut up
The competition knows that you don't want to be available 24/7, and therefore comes with an off switch. Apps like CSipSimple, Skype, Nimbuzz, and fring also let you choose whether you want them to autostart or wait until you launch them yourself.
Not so for Viber. It's set to autostart and won't let you change it. It doesn't let you sign out, quit, exit, or otherwise tell the app to shut up when you want to be unavailable without disabling your mobile internet connection. You can kill it with a task manager or force-stop it from the Android settings, but even then it relaunches itself after a while.
It seems that Viber Media, Inc. thinks its app is so great that nobody would ever want to switch it off. The Android Market comments clearly show that many people disagree. And rightly so: you may want to be available on Wi-Fi but not on 3G. Viber doesn't give you that choice.
When you install Viber it asks for many many many Android permissions. Most of them make sense (all VoIP apps want access to your contacts and permission to go online), but why does Viber want access to my location?
Future of Viber
In its present state Viber is totally free. No fees, no ads, not a single way to make Viber Media, Inc. earn a single penny. That's how Nimbuzz and fring started, and then they introduced ads and paid services on top of the free features. Viber will go the same route. Once its user base is large enough to do business they will add premium services to feed their programmers.
A Viber employee wrote on several blogs and forums:
So why is Viber free?
For now, Viber's focus is on adding platforms, adding features (such as text messages) and improving overall system performance. At the same time, we are working on additional future premium services that will generate revenues. The basic Viber service - Viber to Viber phone calls, and soon text messages, will always be free.
You can only use the VoIP features of Viber to connect to other Viber users, and it only runs on Android and iPhone. The good news is that Viber is working on Blackberry and Symbian versions, and on a PC client too. No word about Windows phones yet, though. Viber would be a lot better if it would use open standards so that it can integrate with other VoIP, SMS, and chat apps. Unfortunately they've chosen the closed Skype business model. Maybe they'll release an api so other apps (like CSipSimple) can connect to Viber? It would be nice to have all my VoIP options together in one app, just like I have all my chat contacts in a single multi network messenger.
Viber has potential, but without an off switch it's too intrusive. I've removed Viber from my phone. I'll only put it back if its makers add an exit button and an option to stop it from starting automatically.
Edit: according to a Viber employee on the xda forum:
"Anyway, very soon we will add 2 new improvements:
1. An "Exit" button that will allow user to shut off Viber when they need.
2. We will reduce the frequency of requests to connect to the server from Viber."
No word yet on making autostarting optional, but it seems that Viber is willing to listen to its users. Maybe they'll add a switch to control autostarting too.
• Viber Media, Inc.
• Viber (Android Market)