Tuesday, 18 December 2012

VoIP app Viber adds smilies and custom ringtones, forgets off switch

Smilies, group chats, and system sounds

Updates for VoIP and chat app Viber are few and far between, but they managed to squeeze one in before this year runs out.

New: smilies. Not a lot of them, but you gotta start somewhere. Viber now has stickers (very big smilies) too. Messaging on Viber may seem irrelevant, because if your gadget runs Viber it can run WhatsApp too and that's the SMS replacement of choice for most of the world. But if WhatsApp stops its ever-extending free trials and really turns into a paid app, competing apps like Viber and imo may take over.

The Viber programmers didn't just add eye candy, they threw in a bit of function too. Viber now does group chats with up to 40 people, so you can do big time group sexting.  And now you can tell Viber to use your Android system sounds instead of its own built-in ringtones.

A few updates ago Viber picked up the annoying habit of opening the "all contacts" tab by default (even with "show all contacts" switched off in the settings), which is useless for most people because most of their contacts are not on Viber. But now Viber opens in the Viber contacts tab again. Unfortunately you still can't block contacts, because Viber thinks you want to talk with anyone who's in your Android phone book. It didn't occur to the Viber team that you may add some people (like your ex or your boss) to your phone book to block their calls and messages. Viber won't let you set individual ringtones for contacts, so you can't ignore contacts by setting a silent ringtone for them.

Speaking of phone functions (the core business of Viber): voicemail for Viber would be a welcome addition. Especially if it comes with an option to send some contacts straight to your voicemailbox.

Viber still won't shut up

There's no easy way to switch Viber off or stop it from autostarting everytime you boot your phone. There's an off switch, but it doesn't work because Viber believes that you want to be available for all calls whenever your phone has a live internet connection. They probably never heard of international data charges. Tip: use AFWall+ or the firewall from avast to keep Viber away from your expensive data roaming connection.

The off switch built into Viber is not really an off switch, because the Cloud to Device Messaging service keeps listening for incoming Viber communications and will launch the app if something comes in. You can prevent Viber autostarts with apps like Gemini App Manager and ROM Toolbox, but that's inconvenient, requires root access, and you need to be a bit tech literate to make it work. Of course you can freeze Viber when you want it to keep quiet, and unfreeze it when you're available again. App Quarantine will do it for free, from the app itself or from a widget.

Why does Viber refuse to add a real off switch? There may be a commercial reason for not including an off switch that works. Viber will add paid services to its free features, and a Viber that doesn't run is a Viber that doesn't make money. But really, Viber, sometimes you need to be incommunicado for Viber calls without killing your internet connection or going into airplane mode. Stop behaving like a bunch of stubborn fools and go add a switch to put control where it needs to be: in the hands of the user.

Finally, Viber needs a public API so it can be part of a multi-network app. Chat and VoIP fragmentation is getting worse, so something needs to be done.


some competing apps:


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