Viber 3.0 opens the door to free video calls

The popular messenger adds PC videoconferencing

The latest release of the free messaging app Viber is already out for iOS with some minor changes and big plans for the future. The news couldn't come at a better time. The purple-icon app has managed to amass 200 million users on multiple platforms already in the midst of fierce competition to be the kind of the free messaging apps. Although these figures look tiny compared to the Microsoft-backed Skype with over 600 million, WhatsApp is close at 200 million too, while the Korean LINE from Naver announced 100 million last January.

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Seeing the Viber for iPhone release notes, one can only guess what's coming next. New desktop apps for Mac OS and Windows. Once installed and assuming you're already using the app on your smartphone, you just need to confirm the pairing adding your registered mobile number and a verification code. The desktop version will pull your contact list from the servers with their own pictures, removing any need to add contacts locally or sync with your Address Book.

One nice touch I haven't see on LINE's desktop take is the ability to switch between mobile and desktop app during a call. Time will tell what the practical applications for this are. Messaging or texting using a full keyboard while having your iPhone on loudspeaker looks like something much more useful. And while you're on the computer you'll notice a big change: Viber for desktop supports video — labelled as beta for now. When you try to call a mobile user, unfortunately, you'll get a message of 'Video not supported. Currently, this user cannot accept video calls.'

Video calls not here just yet

While the prospects of subsequent versions are exciting, the big 3.0 release doesn't include many features the average user will notice. Apart from the ability to transfer calls live to a PC or laptop using Viber's desktop app, the latest Viber includes gimmicks seen in similar apps and services. Trendy stickers on the style of LINE, Facebook or Path; cover photos for your profile like Facebook and Twitter; 'last seen badges' like in WhatsApp and the ability to share videos in messages. I would say this is trying to catch up with the competition.

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What will make or break the prospects of Viber will be the ability to keep up it's promise of free calls and better sound quality. I use the app regularly to call relatives abroad with different luck, getting low internet connection signs on Wi-Fi and dropped calls. Friends say it takes up to half a minute to 'stabilise' and stop cracking, but even like that you can notice quality differences compared with a regular phone call — which I tend to end up using frustrated by Viber woes. I'm keeping installed the Mac app for now; this can easily become a replacement to Apple's own iMessages for people who don't have an iPhone and can run the Viber app on their smartphones.

More about free messaging apps?