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Viber morphs into full-blown Skype rival by releasing desktop app

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Viber has been a Skype(s msft) competitor of sorts for a long time, like any VoIP and messaging app for smartphones. At the same time, it’s also been a direct competitor to WhatsApp, employing the same tactic of tying itself to the user’s mobile phone number.

But now the Cyprus-headquartered startup has taken things to a whole new level with its Viber 3 version: it’s released a desktop app for OS X(s aapl) and Windows, making it a full-blown alternative for Skype’s core user base. At the same time, Viber has also beefed up its Android(s goog) and iOS apps, while introducing support for eight new languages (reaching a total of 27).

“Viber for desktop lets you do pretty much everything that Viber lets you do on your mobile phone, with minor exceptions such as stickers,” Viber CEO Talmon Marco explained to me. “What puts it apart from Skype is how tightly integrated it is with the mobile experience. Skype went from the desktop to the phone. Viber went from mobile to desktop — the implication for the user is amazing.”

Hello desktop

“Amazing” might be a tad hyperbolic, but Viber’s cross-platform integration is genuinely impressive.

Viber Mac messagesAs someone who has a greater variety of smartphones and tablets than most (hey, it’s my job), I can attest to one of Skype’s most annoying quirks – its inability to recognize on one device that I’ve already read the day’s messages on another device. This isn’t an issue with Viber.

“Another annoying thing is my wife always complained that would leave Skype running on my computer at home and every message I exchanged with somebody [while on another computer] would beep,” Marco said. “Viber doesn’t – when you get a message, it beeps at both places. Depending on where you answer the message, the next messages only beep on that device.”

Small things, but useful. A far more major advantage is the ability to quickly and simply transfer calls between devices and network types. So you want to start a call on your home desktop, then pop it over to your Wi-Fi connected smartphone, then maintain the call as you leave the house and move onto a cellular network? It should work.

Ironically, I find this all a bit reminiscent of Telefonica’s Tu Go play, which extends the functionality of that carrier’s phone number-linked mobile services to the desktop. Marco doesn’t see Viber as being in direct competition with the cellular giant’s “over-the-top” app but, as the lines between traditional and new-style messaging functionality continue to blur, I think the similarities between the two are worth calling out.

Viber video desktopAfter all, both essentially extend the same services across both mobile and desktop platforms while using the mobile phone number as the key to the user’s identity. When Tu Go came out, it struck me that this number was one of the carrier’s most underappreciated weapons in the fight against third-party communications services – now that Viber’s also exploiting it on the desktop, though, I’m not so sure.

The desktop Viber app also allows video calls, in the style of Skype and Google+. This isn’t available for the mobile apps just yet, though – it will be, Marco promised – and it also doesn’t allow group videoconferencing at this point.

Mobile revamp

Viber’s announcements today aren’t all about the desktop. For one thing, we now have the full new version for BlackBerry,(s bbry) which – as we reported last month — finally includes VoIP functionality. This makes Viber the first mass-market VoIP provider to offer such a feature on the platform.

However, as we noted when covering the beta, it’s only available for versions 5 and 7 of the platform. According to Marco, this is because Viber has to implement IP-based voice on BlackBerry in a slightly roundabout way (“pretty much recording and playing back”), which makes latency a serious issue on BlackBerry OS 6, but less so on 5 and 7. Even on the supported versions, “users should manually set the APN settings to do 3G – there’s no way around that,” he warned.

Viber desktop iPhoneUsers on iOS will find their updated app now includes video messaging capabilities: previously, you could send photos and locations, but not videos. “Last online” status has also been introduced, bringing Viber in line with WhatsApp on that front – Marco admitted that he himself wasn’t sure how useful this would be, given Viber’s push notifications, but “it’s there.”

Other tweaks on iOS include the ability to search contacts specifically for groups, rather than having to scroll through individual contacts to find them, and the introduction of a new voice engine “that provides better performance on low bandwidth or in poor network conditions.” The aforementioned ability to roam between Wi-Fi and 3G coverage is also a new feature, and the overall app design has evolved.

The Android version gets the same features as the iOS app, but also a hefty redesign. It previously looked very much like the iOS version but is now all Holo — as Marco put it, “the iOS version looks iOS and the Android version looks Android.”

Next trick

Viber now has 200 million users, Marco said. This is the same number WhatsApp announced less than a month ago, but it’s important to note that WhatsApp’s 200 million users are active on the service at least once a month, while Viber is only talking about the number of its registered users. That said, Marco claimed that the majority of those users did use the service last month.

Given the fact that Viber VoIP calls only sometimes use Skype-esque peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, often going through Viber’s servers instead, this means the company has to spend a lot of money on servers – “We’re probably one of the largest users of Amazon(s amzn) Web Services,” Marco said, while conceding that his firm is still generating zero revenue.

So when is Viber going to start monetizing its service, then? This year, apparently. According to Marco, the company will start selling stickers to its users, along with other, as-yet-undefined “value adds.”

How about an enterprise play? After all, the addition of the desktop app makes Viber an increasingly credible unified communications service. “We have nothing to announce at this point in time, but we think that the desktop offering gets us closer to this,” Marco said.

Whatever happens, there’s no question that 2013 will be a very exciting year for the rapidly evolving Viber.

25 Responses to “Viber morphs into full-blown Skype rival by releasing desktop app”

  1. The lack of NAT traversal is a major problem. Viber works for me on most connections, but not on the academic wifi network eduroam, which uses NAT. If Viber would like the benefit of the academic community all saying how great Viber is, they just have to make it work behind NAT. Simples.

  2. Heinz Kano

    Please help!!!
    I have installed viber on my laptop Vista and it worked fine in the first day. In the second day it did not connect and every time I get the same message “There seems to be a problem connecting to viber service”. I uninstalled the software and installed it again but nothing changed. Please help!!!

  3. Get Real

    What a buggy piece of crap the mac desktop install is – surely with a quality product you can test before release – i have un-installed re installed as per viber website and still no recognition of existing viber number – get your act together viber – 1.5 hours of wasted time – very not VIBER impressed !

  4. Renato

    I hope Viber will add soon calls to landline and mobile numbers (of course selling that – as Skype does) too but no banners and advertising.
    Without any doubt it is the best VoIP service I’ve ever used: really affordable (I never lost a call) and the audio quality is amazing, often better than mobile, even under 3G connection.
    I’ve tried almost all ad hoc solutions (like Indoona, Skype, etc.) and generic clients (like Bria and CSipSimple) and Viber is unbeatable.
    I’m still curious to know which codec they use (G729? SILK?) and if they’re planning to adopt the newest codec from Skype: Opus. This one should be the state of art of audio codec for music, streaming and VoIP calls.

  5. mktahir

    Plz Help me im Install in Viber and i m Use in Viberin Android S2 desktop on Windows i m write in Cell Number But Is Not Working and Not will receive an access code to your Cell Number Viber mobile. also i m use in Android S2 Ver 3.0.0 plz Help me ……

  6. Chad Bordes

    Viber is no dummy. With the verge of “Babel” or “hangouts” on the horizon, Viber was looking to be first to market. If you think that googles unified messaging service is going to look like Viber, you are correct. Since viber introduced it first with 200M users, it may help to offset the loses that will occur when “Babel” or “hangouts” is released. :-)

  7. anuragb

    This seems interesting.

    I am very curious on how these companies plan to make money out it? Possibly one can run a decent business out of such products but what about VC’s expectations and major growth options?

    Can someone explain?

    • Ankit

      I guess you have very little understanding of how this businesses work globally.. Its simple,private investors have invested with help from hedge fund loans and will divest as soon as the IPO is released,, This is how most companies without any REAL product operate.. Take the money and run out at some point!

      On the other hand, you should rather focus on your little out sourced job of tele marketing..yah..

    • Viber Team

      Currently, Viber’s focus is on adding new features and integrating with more platforms, as well as improving overall system performance. At the same time, we are working on additional premium services that will generate revenue once they become available. The basic Viber service – Viber-to-Viber phone calls and text messages – will always remain free.

      • mktahir

        Plz Help me im Install in Viber and i m Use in Viberin Android S2 desktop on Windows i m write in Cell Number But Is Not Working and Not will receive an access code to your Cell Number Viber mobile. also i m use in Android S2 Ver 3.0.0 plz Help me ……

        • Viber Team

          @mktahir –

          Please try removing Viber, wait 24 hours, reinstall and try again (make sure you try both the SMS and the automated call options).

          In addition, you may try to register to Viber with a different number (for example – your home landline number, a friend’s number, etc.), in order to determine whether the problem is specific with your number, or a general one.

  8. xxxSimoneBxxx

    Mac said I wasn’t using Viber on my iPhone – despite it being there – Deactivated account, and reset up – now iPhone app won’t sync contacts! The Mac version is now working, but also with no contacts listed!!
    Not much of an advancement if I can’t even see or contact my contacts!!

  9. Viber Team


    This is an official representative from Viber.
    We are thrilled about our new releases, and we hope that our users and fans out there will make the most out of them.

    As usual, we’re here to address our users’ questions and doubts directly. If you need assistance, please don’t hesitate to let us know :)

    @Jamie Finn –

    It could be that the network you are connected to is blocking Viber’s traffic.

    Please make sure the following ports are enabled (“forwarded”) on your routers or firewalls:
    TCP: 5242 + 4244
    UDP: 5243 + 9785

    Best regards,
    the Viber Team.

    • Chris

      First off, let me say I am in Viber’s corner – I like the app, and I use it all the time.

      That said, while I understand the technical reasons why Viber needs ports open on the firewall, in a corporate environment this makes the it almost useless.

      My company allows us to connect our phones to the Wifi, but if I do that then Viber will not work. Quite reasonably the admin is unmotivated to poke holes in our firewalls just for us to use a skype competitor.

      I have to use my mobile data and simply not use the Wifi.

      If Viber could work out how to do NAT traversal so it ‘just works’ it would solve this problem, for phones and the desktop app. That would go a long way to fostering the corporate adoption that’s needed if Viber is to have any hope of knocking the increasingly bloated and unreliable Skype of the #1 spot.

      • Viber Team

        @Chris –

        We fully understand the problem you are in at the moment.
        We will consider adding an option that allows you to change the ports that our app uses, so you can use it in a flexible way in different WiFi networks.

        We apologize for the temporary inconvenience :/

        Meanwhile, we invite you to enter our Feature Request page and post your suggestion there, or join an existing similar suggestion (it’s very easy and quick!). The more people join on a request, the faster it will become reality :)

        You can find it here: