Monday, 1 August 2011

VoIP app Viber adds off switch, but still thinks you're too stupid to control autostart

Free calls to other Viber users

Viber lets you call and text other Viber users for free. There are plenty of other apps and VoIP services for that, but the sound quality of Viber is comparable to CSipSimple, and much better than Skype, Nimbuzz, or fring.

Warning: if you dial a non-Viber user from the Viber app it gets charged as a normal phone call. You can use LBE Privacy Guard to make sure that Viber can only call through VoIP.

Viber calls eat half a megabyte of data per minute: 0.25 MB each way. That adds up to 30 MB per hour. That may turn out cheaper than an international phone call if you buy the right data roaming package, but usually it's way more expensive. Do the maths before you Viber away on a foreign data network. Or simply stick to WiFi.

Free messages, but it's not SMS

Texting on Viber works, but it lacks smilies. Sometimes messages take ages to arrive. Viber messaging makes noise, and you can't switch the Viber sounds off unless you put your entire phone in silent mode.

Viber does not integrate with standard SMSs, so Viber texts won't appear in the stock SMS program or in any other SMS app. Viber SMSs will be missing from the universal inbox in Androids messaging app too. Same thing the other way 'round: normal SMSs won't appear in Viber either, even though normal phone calls are listed in Vibers call log.

Viber messages are free, but that's the only reason to send Viber texts. If speed matters an instant messenger like MSN, Google Talk, or Skype messaging wins. If cost is not an issue you're better off with plain old SMS.

No need to sign up

Your phone number is your user name, so you don't need to create accounts or add your friends and enemies by hand. If your Viber-using contacts are in your Android address book then Viber knows where they are. They'll automatically know that you're on Viber you too.

There's no way to run two Viber accounts on one phone, so forget about having one Viber identity for business and another one for your friends. I wonder how Viber plays along on phones with dual SIMs?

Too intrusive

The first versions of Viber for Android wouldn't let you switch it off. It would always run and make you available, even if you wanted to take a break from Viber. That's really stupid behaviour with plenty of potential for disaster. Imagine your phone bill after you accidentally pick up an incoming Viber call when roaming abroad because Viber refuses to shut up.

That problem is partially fixed in the latest Viber update. Now you can shut the app down, although it pops up an annoying window to complain about that the next time you launch Viber. Too bad that they left another error unfixed. Even worse is that they left it unfixed on purpose.

The other error: Viber starts up automatically. You can't switch autostart off, so if you switch your phone off at night, after running out of battery, or for any other reason you'll have to manually switch off Viber everytime you boot your phone. This is highly annoying, especially when you're travelling and you want to keep Viber away from your expensive data roaming connection.

And why is autostart mandatory? A Viber representative on the xda forum believes that they'll be flooded with complaints from users who disable autostart and then blame Viber when the app doesn't launch by itself. In plain english: Viber thinks we are too stupid to decide for ourselves whether we want to allow autostart or not.

By adding an off switch Viber shows that it's willing to learn from its mistakes. Maybe they'll learn some more and add the missing autostart toggle later on? Until then you'll either have to accept the autostart behaviour or tame it with one of the autostart managers out there.

Watch your data!

Something else to keep the Viber team busy: the difference between WiFi and mobile data. Viber won't tell them apart, but if your mobile operator bans VoIP from its data network you need a way to tell Viber that it can accept incoming calls on WiFi but not on 3G. The programmers at Viber should have a good look at the settings menu of CSipSimple, which lets you do just that. It's very easy to miss a switch to mobile data if you walk out of WiFi range. VoIP apps like Viber should be aware of that and act accordingly.

Integration with other VoIP apps?

I have Skype, CSipSimple, Vonage, and Viber. CSipSimple works with any VoIP provider that uses the standard SIP setup. Nimbuzz and fring used to have Skype built in as well, but Skype made them remove it. Skype now only works as a stand alone app, and we should never ever forgive them for that. In its present state Viber only works with Vibers own app. I hope Viber will allow other VoIP apps to incorporate its network so we don't end up with a home screen full of VoIP apps to stay connected with all our contacts scattered over different networks. Every instant messaging app that's worth installing supports multiple networks. VoIP apps should do the same.

Viber Media, Inc.
Viber (Android Market)

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  1. Hi,
    This is a member of the Viber Development Team.
    I believe we've spoken also on XDA, but allow me to respond to your review of Viber here as well:

    Let me being by explaining that Viber is a communication app. We allowed the option to shut it off in accordance with user demand, but some other features were voted AGAINST by the majority of our users (like the disabling of ausostart), and so we will not develop them at this stage. When we compliment you and say that you are a technical user, it doesn't mean we regard all our other users "stupid", as you claimed here. It merely means that some users are less technically oriented and don't want to be overwhelmed with settings, or for that matter - sometimes they can't even find these options in Settings! They simply want to use an intuitive, simple app that lets them make/receive calls/texts.

    About 1 number account for 2 different devices - this feature is certainly planned for the future, but we still don't know when/how exactly we will implement it. Updates will come soon.

    Our text messages, especially on Android, have a few problems. We are aware of it and continuously investigating the matter in order to improve and perfect it. Noticeable enhancements have already been made, and hopefully soon we'll be able to say that our SMS service is as reliable as the cellular one.

    Regarding the switch to 3G - by adding the "Exit" button we provide our users with the option to make sure Viber doesn't suddenly use up your 3G data. How many times a day does an average user switch between WiFi and 3G, let alone EXACTLY while he's on a call?
    Anyway, we promised that we will look into adding a feature that lets you intelligently turn Viber on/off on 3G/WiFi, and so shall we do.

    Lastly, we are currently discussing integration of Viber with non-Viber platforms. That includes PSTN, SIP and other apps. We still don't have final decisions, but I just wanted to inform you that it's certainly being discussed seriously these days.

    Best regards, and feel free to ask should something was still left unclarified,

    Viber Media.

  2. Hi Viber,

    >>some other features were voted AGAINST by the majority of our users (like the disabling of ausostart)<<

    You had a vote? Where? When? Do you really expect me to believe that the majority of your users participated in the vote?

    Can you post a link to the vote? Not just to the result, but also to the specific wording of the question (which can have a big impact on the outcome)?

    I'm pretty sure that the majority of users for any app don't leave any feedback at all.

    >>How many times a day does an average user switch between WiFi and 3G<<

    A city is a patchwork of open WiFi routers. Walk through any major city and your phone will automatically switch between open WiFi and 3G many times. Android is designed for seemless switching without any user interaction or notification.

  3. >> Can you post a link to the vote? Not just to the result, but also to the specific wording of the question (which can have a big impact on the outcome)?

    A "vote" isn't in the way you describe it, i.e a poll per se. When developing a public product (let alone when it's as 'viral' as Viber), the voting is reflected by the number of complaints we get at any given moment added to the simultaneous number of installations and usage statistics we see. When auto-start was disabled, when we first began our Beta-testing, we saw significant rise in complaints and significant decrease of Viber minutes used. Furthermore - many people installed Viber again and again because they didn't understand where they should activate Viber. A product like Viber, that presents itself as a substitute to the native phone app, cannot afford to not intuitively be up and running as the phone launches. For now, adding the "Exit" button is the only solution we offer, and our users are happy. We do think highly of opinions of technical users like yourself, who restart their phone a few times a day (as you claimed) and whom autostart bothers, but unfortunately we won't be adding a further feature in addition to the "Exit" button that we already added in accordance with *popular* user demand.

    >> Android is designed for seemless switching without any user interaction or notification.

    It's actually far from seamless, and in fact the great majority of communication apps in the market today do not fully support such 3G-WiFi switches (due to the infamous problem of low-quality WiFi coverage area that clings onto your phone). Arguing that all Android holders today fully rely on sporadic WiFi networks across their city is inaccurate, to say the least. If that were possible, it would become WiMax, and essentially eliminate the use of 3G completely. Instead, people simply turn off their WiFi connection when on the road. So as you can see, it is definitely not a problem exclusive to Viber. Having said all that, I'd like to point out that we ARE after all pondering what we can do to better adapt ourselves to 3G-WiFi switches. It's not an easy task, but we hope to get there one day.

  4. It would be nice to have an option to disable autostart, so "less technically oriented" users should let that option box checked. I personally want to have the choice to disable it. Other than that, it would be nice to distinguish online from offline users.

  5. Hi Android Guy,
    First, please read our (very) detailed response above regarding the autostart issue.

    About the online-offline status - this is something we are considering these days to add to Viber, but it's important to understand that such feature could be considered intrusive to some users. We might be adding this feature as an option for the user to decide, but we still don't have any concrete news about this.

    You can follow us on Facebook for the latest update and news :)

  6. Just put the autostart option in a screen behind an "ADVANCED SETTINGS!!! BEWARE OF THE DOG!!!" sign if you're afraid that some users will complain about self-inflicted damage. Problem solved.

  7. Thanks for the suggestion - that's indeed our general idea that's being considered these days.

  8. Living in London, I can confirm that its really annoying how many times Viber has to be "exited" as I enter / leave wifi zones. Please put an auto start disable under advanced setting until viber is able to differentiate between wifi and 3g.

  9. @Miten -
    What exactly do you mean? We're not quite sure we fully understood..

    Even if Viber stays online at that timeframe when you are connected to 3G, you can still choose not to accept calls.

  10. Incoming Viber calls still make noise when you're on 3G. What about an option to switch the Viber ringtone off when not on WiFi?

  11. @android underground -

    That's a good idea.

    However, since we are considering simply adding a 3G on/off option inside Viber's settings for future versions, it probably won't be necessary, but we will certainly take it into account.

  12. Maybe not, but only if there's an option to block 3G calls without blocking 3G texts, i.e. the 3G on/off option shouldn't be an all-or-nothing switch.

    The three choices should be:

    3G on
    3G off
    3G off for calls but on for texts

  13. Yes, that is the general idea we were thinking of. We will see what we can do to implement such a feature in our future versions.