Viber Gives Skype a Run for Its Money on iPhone

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Skype has new competition on the iPhone platform thanks to Viber, a new VoIP app that allows iPhone-to-iPhone calling over 3G and Wi-Fi connections. The app is free, runs in the background, doesn’t have any ads and won’t charge you anything to make calls.

There are some caveats. You can’t call any number for free, just other Viber users. Calling a number not associated with a Viber account will boot you out to the iPhone’s own Phone app to place the call, which will incur carrier or long distance charges. And there’s no warning of that, so watch your usage.

Also, unlike with Skype, there’s no way to call out to landlines or mobile phones, even through additional purchases, which may be a deal breaker to some. But for my purposes, which mainly consist of not using up my limited daytime minutes talking to my girlfriend, it’s a perfect solution. Perfect that is, as long as everyone involved has an iPhone. Viber is advertising an Android version as in the works, though, so cross-platform calls could be on the horizon.

But why not just use Skype? Well, for one, Viber doesn’t really require a sign up or separate account. All you do is enter your iPhone’s phone number once when the app launches, and you’re all set to begin making calls to other Viber users. That means I don’t have to worry about whether or not my girlfriend is signed in to Skype or has the app running, since Viber uses Apple’s push notifications to receive calls even when closed. Clicking “Answer” on the resulting alert opens the app and connects the call.

Viber suggests using the app as a way for businesses to provide a toll-free international calling number, but of course, those wanting to call would have to have Viber installed in order for this to work. They don’t, however, have to have you as a contact. Instead, just dialing the number you provide in the Viber app will automatically place a call using the service instead of your cellular minutes.

Planned future features for Viber include free text messaging, custom ringtones and wallpapers, and location-based services. Viber’s business model doesn’t yet include any way to make revenue, so expect a few of those to be features you end up paying for. But since the press release explicitly says “free text messaging” and promises that calls will remain free, which is all I care about, I’m happy to see Viber embracing a freemium model.

Full support for the iPod touch and iPad is also said to be on the way, although right now I wonder how that’ll work, since the whole service seems based around your phone number. Hopefully, it will arrive, because that’ll go a long way to extending Viber’s potential reach.

Even without any new teachers, I doubt I’ll be using Skype on my iPhone again any time soon. Anyone else a convert?

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