Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tech Column: Viber 4.0

by Bill Adler

It would be pretty lonely being all alone. If only we had some way to connect with our friends and family when they’re not sitting next to us. If only there was email, instant messaging, Facebook, IM, Google+, Skype...Yes, I think that chances of becoming unconnected are pretty slim.

So why get excited about Viber 4.0, the latest version of Viber? First, what is Viber? Viber, www.viber.com, is a messaging app that’s not unlike iMessage, or even regular text messaging. Using Viber you can send texts to other people who have Viber. Viber supports most popular phones, including Blackberry.

Third party messaging apps such as Viber use your phone’s data connection, rather than your cell company’s texting service. Data is usually less expensive than texting, especially if you don’t have an all-you-can eat text message plan, or are visiting another country. (“Let’s meet at the museum at 5pm.” “Can we make it 4pm?” “The exhibit closes at 5:30.” “OK, 4pm sounds good.” “Want to catch dinner after?” “Sure.” That exchange might cost you anywhere from 60 cents to $3, depending on where you are and what your cell phone company’s fine print says.)

Some third party messaging programs, including Viber, also work on your PC, which means that you can type on a human sized keyboard for a refreshing change.

Which brings me to the one of the new features that Viber just implemented: Walkie-talkie, push-to-talk chats. Say what? Let me explain what a walkie-talkie chat is and why you should at least try it. Walkie-talkie chats are like text messages, only you’re sending by voice. Take that exchange above about meeting at the museum. It could take several minutes to carry on that conversation by typing. But by voice the same chat is very fast. Press and hold the talk button; release it, and your message is sent. If the person you’re talking with has Viber open, they’ll get the message instantly. If Viber is closed and running in the background, their phone will beep and they can listen to your message and reply at their leisure.

Aviation is one of the most technologically advanced industries on the planet. Yet Air Traffic Control still communicates with pilots by voice because you can convey a lot more information quickly by voice than you can digitally. With voice you can confirm that the message has been received right away, too. (“Cessna 34987, traffic alert, turn heading 270 and climb. Expedite.” “985 turning 270, climbing.”)

Even if you’re not air traffic control --though it may feel that way when you’re coordinating a bunch of friends meeting for dinner-- it’s convenient to be able to use voice. Now that it’s mitten season in the northern hemisphere, it’s also nice to be able to message people without miniature icicles forming on your fingers.

Voice messaging is often better than actually placing a phone call. A phone often involves a lengthy time commitment to extraneous, mandatory small-talk. It’s rare and rude to call somebody and just say, “Let’s meet at the museum at 5pm.” You have to talk about the weather, your family, work, the traffic and your general state of being before you can get to the point. Also, a phone call usually means you have to stop whatever else you’re doing. But with voice messaging you can respond at your leisure -- when you’ve put the car in park, for instance.

Other message apps have push-to-talk features, including Voxer, but Viber wraps their package in a feature-rich service. In addition to texting and voicing, you can actually place a phone call to other Viber users. Viber uses wifi for calls, so you can have international phone calls without feeling like you have to choose between the call and being able to afford dinner.

The new version of Viber has stickers. Stickers are perhaps the least useful Viber feature, but they are the most fun. Messaging should be fun. Stickers are detailed emoticons. Stickers are drawings, often cartoons, that express your feelings, inclination, desire or mood in a single picture. As with push-to-talk, Viber didn’t invent stickers, but they have plenty of clever ones. Viber gives some stickers away for free, and charges for others. The Viber app and service itself are free.

Should you use Viber? If you regularly use any kind of messaging application, then Viber might make your messaging life both more efficient and more fun.


Bill Adler is a writer. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys:Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft, "Outwitting Squirrels," http://amzn.to/VXuLBh and a mess of other books. He tweets at @billadler. His Fire Breathing Toaster column is published on Monday and his Tech Column is published on Tuesday.

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