If you managed to keep installed Viber after all the other mobile messaging apps redesigned their apps, you are in luck. The purple messenger has finally come out with an updated version that properly blends in with the iOS 7 style we have now grown accustomed to. The end result is quite good too.
Apart from a technical update on 3.1 last November, which added basic support to the old Viber, not much had been going on the iOS front. For an app that for many is an instant messenger on the phone, having to use the old keyboard was less than ideal. The kind of thing really noticeable even for light users. Although this year we've seen the truckload of instant messengers update — WhatsApp took some time too — and new promising projects like Telegram launch, Viber kept iPhone users waiting until now.
The first impression is pretty good. The app adopts the typical interface paradigms without the influence of Viber apps on other platforms, but keeping some personality there. The most remarkable note is the use of the chat bubble shape used on the logo. This type of inflated rectangle with rounded corners is used in interface elements and most icons. You can see this on the user profile pictures, breaking the design trend to put all the avatars on circles. This is clearly staying away from the designer mock-ups of what a new Viber would look like, making it easily recognisable.
Similar navigation structure
Despite the new look, the features and navigation are all in the same place. You can find the messages, recent calls, contact lists, and keypad and sticker market on the bottom menubar. There are some new details worth mentioning. The awful owl default background has been changed to something more abstract using a colour palette Apple already suggests on its backgrounds — the beach and one of the gradient backgrounds that come with iOS 7.
@appfreak they added owls too on the background :D— Perjan Duro (@PerjanDuro) November 12, 2013
The calling screen also echoes some of the design decisions at Cupertino, although this time not really keeping up to date. The call screen mimics the iOS 7 phone app, which has changed in the latest 7.1 version. In summary, you get a blurred background with the picture or avatar of your contact and the name displayed prominently on the top in a narrow Helvetica Neue. The button layout follows the one you are used to, now using hair thin design and custom iconography that matches perfectly the squirqle theme.
There's more to it than the new appearance. The very popular feature of blocking users is now available, which will inevitably trigger some questions to know who is actually blocking. Some users on App Store reviews note the blocking might accidentally add numbers mentioned on the messages but I haven't been able to test it myself. For group texts, there's the option to mute in case they get too active, instead of leaving the group altogether. There's also an enhance multimedia picker, allowing you to select multiple pictures at once and even send video — playing the catch up game with Telegram, which excelled at quick file sharing.
I'm not that interested on the monetisation options that have been added slowly to the app. The first launch will throw a splash screen reminding you about the option to place calls to normal mobile and landline numbers, annoying, but similar to past updates. The sticker shop keeps using the icon badge to alert you of new sticker packages, purposely confusing you to open the app expecting a new message. Not that I use stickers, but if I had to, Line does a better job with its design and emoticons.
The mobile instant messenger space has gained interest from investors, seeing the purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook and the own Viber by the retail giant Rakuten months earlier. This time, I'm glad I didn't discard Viber, as I was almost moving away from the app due to the weak user experience on iOS. Having tested the app for just some hours, I'm confident I'll keep it for calls abroad and group messages with friends and family we've kept going for a while now.