Viber broke away from what most competitors have done out there by creating a desktop client for its messaging and voice call app. Viber was originally a simple communications app launched on iOS and later Android. It differentiated itself from Whatsapp by providing the ability to make calls over the internet via WIFI or a cellular data connection. In Asia, Whatsapp took the lead in popularity because it reached the market first. Whatsapp is not the best messaging app out there but its first-to-market move gave it the critical user base that self propagated even more members. There are many apps in this space, WeChat and Line are two other popular ones but none of them have truly offered cross compatibility beyond mobile devices – until now.
Viber’s move in providing a desktop client changes the classification of this app.
Viber’s move in providing a desktop client changes the classification of this app. Whatsapp, WeChat and Line are no longer its competitors. Viber is now up against Skype and iMessage. In terms of cross compatibility, I will have to objectively remove iMessage from this because you cannot access iMessage from non Apple devices. Viber and Skype on the other hand, run on any operating system (including OS X) and any device. The point of comparison here will be Viber vs. Skype.
Viber on the Desktop
The desktop client works exactly the way you expect it to. It’s a lightweight programme that stays resident on the system tray when running. Opening it gives you four tabs – Conversations, Contacts, Recents and Dailer. The tabs are pretty self explanatory.
Messaging works perfectly. Text and photos are transmitted to all your devices instantaneously. You can zoom in and save photos or even post them to Facebook.
The only downside of the messaging portion is that emoticons and stickers sent from Android / iOS apps are not viewable as yet. This should be brought into the desktop client within the next release as it is not very difficult to implement.
Making calls on the desktop client is straightforward. You can do it via the dialer or by clicking ‘Call’ after right clicking a contact’s name. Call quality was crisp and clear on Wifi and 4G. Some stuttering occurred on 3G but it was no worse (or better) than Skype. A good solid 3G connection will suffice but that is hard to come by in Singapore especially if you are moving between cell towers quickly.
You can transfer calls between your devices if you have to switch from one to another. I tested this by making a call from the desktop client and then using the switch button (next to the hang up button) to transfer the call to my HTC One X. The handover was smooth and I was able to resume my call without disruption.
Similar to Skype, you can continue messaging while making a voice or video call. I did not test the video call feature as it is still in its beta stage. Things would change quickly on this end and reviewing it will be of little value at this point.
The desktop client is the feature that brought me back to using Viber and a large part of it is due to its perfect execution.
The Viber desktop client is polished and clean looking. It offers lesser features than its Skype counterpart as it is unable to make calls to landlines or have a paid subscription option. However, it outdoes Skype in other areas such as delivering a better user interface and experience with minimal fuss. The desktop client is the feature that brought me back to using Viber and a large part of it is due to its perfect execution.
Viber on Android
The Android app remains largely unchanged besides having its UI completely redone to fit Google’s Holo theme. Similar to what Whatsapp had done earlier, the UI has been reskinned and looks more Android like as compared to the earlier version which was essentially a visual iOS port.
You can send video messages which is a nice touch but one that I rarely used. There are also emoticons and stickers. I was hoping that Viber would adopt the Emoji standard but it currently sports its own. The selection of stickers and emoticons is not extensive but there is more than enough for self expression.
Messaging and calling remain as they are. They work as intended without any extra things to note. Overall, the app feels a little less optimized as compared to Whatsapp. It takes a little longer to load and seems to be pinging the server more often than required. These are small concerns as a week’s heavy usage showed no real difference in battery consumption. However, when compared to Skype (which is its actual competitor here – Whatsapp has no call function, etc), Viber again emerges as the better optimized client. Skype gobbles up too many resources and insists on an always on connection on Android.
Skype has much to learn from Viber about building a good app both on Android and on the Desktop.
Viber is in a good place for those who want to be able to send messages and make calls on both their mobile devices and traditional computers. It treads a fine line between apps with a smaller feature set like Whatsapp and giants like Skype. If you are a user like me that spends a fair amount of time on the desktop, the desktop client is a tremendous advantage and makes messaging unified.
The challenge for Viber is to reach a critical mass of users, something that Skype and Whatsapp have done.
I hope competitors like Skype learn from this to keep their apps on all platforms lean with a clean, minimally designed user interface. Other smaller competitors like Whatsapp should rethink their decisions on desktop clients as this opens up the user base to a much wider audience.
The challenge for Viber is to reach a critical mass of users, something that Skype and Whatsapp have done. The moment it is able to do that, Viber will be the client that has got the balance right in making your conversations a lot more convenient.