Viber's new interface shows a grown-up app

A new update for the the app you know and love to make international calls and text your buddies for free has been recently pushed to the App Store. If you rely on it as much as I do on its magic, I will blame you for not wanting to try the latest version — there are some substantial changes going on but it doesn't break anything. 

Viber 2.2 adds some extra features to catch up with its competitors plus some interface changes that make it feel like a grown-up app. It's a fantastic update. To begin with, this version makes group texting a reality. Now you can add multiple recipients and reply to all to keep all your friends in the loop. This is nothing groundbreaking but as Viber's user base grows, it's a useful feature that will come in handy everyday.

I like the way Viber does texting, mimicking Apple's own app, and I use it frequently to send pictures to friends overseas as a quicker alternative to email. It's also a great way to communicate with other users overseas and while you travel.

Adding more participants to your texts

The top bar on the messaging tab now includes a misterious gear icon that doesn't only allow you to change the background of the conversation — oh the eye candy! — but also add new participants. You can also add more participants from a new message as long as they have the latest version of Viber. The app will send them a notification reminding them to update the app. I don't know how this actually works but imagine you could be sending a lot of upgrade messages to your contacts only by adding them to a group conversation and there is no way to dismiss this dialogue box.

The new update also claims to have improved the "voice engine and sound quality" although I haven't noticed any huge improvement myself. Calling with Viber tends to be a hit and miss experience, sometimes working perfectly well and others having to dial several times until the sound is clear. The odd signal strength indicator changes too frequently to be anywhere useful — I would prefer an indication of 3G or WiFi network being used right in the app.

Polishing touches

Up to now, apps like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber itself were awesome products that felt a little behind on the IU front. With Apple hitting hard with its free iMessages, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to update the looks and keep those customers loyal to the platform.

Viber 2.2 adds contact avatars pulled directly from your address book. I really like this small change, which makes your contact list more visual than the iPhone's own bland black and white table view. Group messages include tiny avatars in the conversation, but I find these too small to be useful. 

Another nice touch are the time stamps in the text messages being sent. This is actually very smart as they fade and disappear after a while to avoid making the conversation view too cluttered. Nice little touch. You can also change the background with an image from your camera roll — unfortunately Viber doesn't include any stock background for you to use. The default light linen one seems alright to me and blends well with the rest of the system.  

There are some other minor interface changes such as new buttons on the top of the message view and a revamped bottom bar. Using an app this much always adds to the time you spend with your iPhone. In this case, there's always a satisfaction factor associated with making those calls and texts for free. This release doesn't change anything radically, it simply refines the interface and tries to stay on par with the competition. Great news to see an app like this being supported on iOS. What are you waiting for?