SMS texting may have been the first form of instant messaging brought to the phone platform but it did not remain the only form for long. The ability to message people via a phone in addition to on a PC soon gave rise to messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber. Basically, these apps let you send messages to others using your cell phone carrier's network or a free WiFi network via your phone. Some of the apps even allow you to make or receive voice calls.
The development of messaging apps was very welcome by users as their free price tag was far more attractive than the then high prices associated with SMS texting.
A Messaging Evolution
Over time of course, free unlimited text messaging came to be a standard offering in most U.S. cell phone plans. And for those of you who actually thought that cell phone companies were just being nice and expanding their service to you when they did this, think again. These guys saw the writing on the wall and were really just protecting their business against the free app services.
So, AT&T, Verizon and others were able to hold on to a good portion of their customers' text usage but not all of it. International texting rates remained an issue. For anyone with friends or family members in other countries, messaging apps continue to be highly beneficial and reliance on these apps has grown over the years. In fact, the international market provided something of a niche for these programs.
No Longer Just a Workaround
The ability to make voice calls and to communicate with people outside of the app network along with the purchase of one of the leading messaging apps by Facebook most certainly signal that there's more to this story. In fact, these changes may well see a big shift in the viability of two of the leading messaging apps, WhatsApp and Viber.
A Then-and-Now Look
The best way to understand the evolution of the messaging app market is to take a closer look at these two leading solutions. And, the best way to evaluate WhatsApp and Viber is to compare them pre-Facebook acquisition and post-Facebook acquisition.
In its original form, WhatsApp put all of its egg in the messaging basket. Viber, on the other hand, offered voice calling along with messaging from the get-go. While WhatsApp's user interface was simpler and sleeker, that really wasn't enough to make it better than Viber given the big functionality difference. Here's a side-by-side comparison of some of the original app features to illustrate this point:
|Voice Recording and Messaging|
|Group Chat||Up to 50 people per group||Over 100 people per group|
|Voice Chat||Yes, including mobile to desktop switching|
|PC Chat||Yes, including desktop to mobile switching|
|Chat History||For Android, Windows Phone and Nokia only||For all operating systems|
|Backup||Yes, manual or email||Yes, manual or email|
|Contact Integration||Syncs with cell phone contact list||Syncs with cell phone contact list|
|Cost||Free for 1st year, 99˘ each year thereafter||Free|
|Mobile Compatibility||iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Nokia System, Nokia S40||iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Nokia System, Bada|
|Voice Calling||Yes, to iPhone or Android phones only via ViberOut|
|Cost of Voice Calls||Not applicable||Varies, rates start at 1.3˘ per minute|
In looking at this list, the only functionality that WhatsApp provided that Viber did not was the ability to send voice recordings. However, you could argue that the ability to make voice calls - which Viber had - negated the need to send voice recordings. The backup feature on WhatsApp was probably more critical than on Viber for people who had operating systems for which WhatsApp did not offer chat history.
You probably remember when Facebook dropped messaging from its app in 2014. Well, make no bones about it - this was done not just because it was a lackluster app (though it was). Facebook had found something else, namely WhatsApp. Facebook being Facebook, you have to know that in purchasing WhatsApp they had absolutely no intention of keeping it exactly the same.
Enhancements were to come and two have already emerged. Today, WhatsApp users can make and receive voice calls to anyone in the WhatsApp network. Before you think that clarification is a negative, stop for a moment and remember that WhatsApp now has access to the Facebook network, thereby dramatically expanding its reach. Talk about a game changer in the comparison of WhatsApp and Viber.
In addition, WhatsApp has added some desktop integration although its solution at this point requires a connection to the phone via scanning a code so Viber still leads here. The voice calling feature provided by WhatsApp comes with a nice rounded offering that makes it a robust and very functional option. Calls are initiated by simply opening a new chat and clicking a phone icon. Inbound calls can be accepted or rejected with a simple tap and slide operation.
In collecting information about the features offered, I was unable to get clear details about some things for Viber as you will see in the following comparison:
|Message Confirmations||Delivery, read, play||Unknown|
|Inbound Call Decline||Yes, with and without message||Unknown|
|Mobile Compatibility||Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry 10||iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Nokia System, Bada|
|Desktop Interface||Yes, via phone connection||Yes, standalone PC and Mac|
|Cost||Free for 1st year, 99c each year thereafter||Free|
|Voice Calling||Yes, to iPhone or Android phones only via ViberOut|
|Support for Calls to/from Landlines|
|Cost of Voice Calls||Not applicable||Varies, rates start at 1.3c per minute|
The ViberOut app gives Viber users the ability to make or receive voice calls outside of the Viber network. Charges apply and vary based upon the country and the type of phone (e.g. mobile or landline). Viber's website gives some information but prompts more questions than it answers, at least to me, when it comes to the costs of making or receiving ViberOut calls.
For example, the Rates page shows information for only six countries. I do not know if that means that no other countries are supported or that they simply didn't publish the information. These six countries are noted as the "Top destinations" with no other explanations or reference to any other "destinations." Even a note indicating that these are the only countries supported right now would be nice from a customer service perspective. At any rate, the cost of ViberOut for these six top destinations is as follows:
Some may find the inability to call outside of the WhatsApp network a negative but when you look at the rates that ViberOut charges, you can see that this may not be a problem. WhatsApp really focuses on its own network and I believe that they are focused on expanding this so that going outside of that really is or will be a non-issue.
A Word About Security
Now, trust me, I'm all about security and would not normally be so casual in my reference to this topic. However, I do this today because it seems that both WhatsApp and Viber have both taken a sadly casual approach to it themselves.
In their FAQs, WhatsApp has one question about message security. The response is short and simply says that all messages are encrypted with the caveat that if someone else sees your phone, your security could be compromised. No details are given about what type of encryption is used or anything else. That's it.
But, if you think that's bad, hold the phone (yes, pun intended). Viber's website does not address security at all. Not at all. There has been no shortage of "discussions" about app security so I have to say I found the lack of details offered on this topic quite surprising—and disappointing.
What Comes Next?
So, it is pretty easy to see how Viber was clearly a better solution at one time than its rival, WhatsApp. However, the tide is turning and I expect that we will see an even greater disparity between these two over time. WhatsApp can be highly personalized and touts a strong following internationally.
Whether you wish to communicate with relatives who live in other countries or want to stay in touch with folks back home when on a foreign vacation, WhatsApp and Viber could be beneficial for you. As for which is better, it may largely depend upon the people you want to communicate with and your preferences about how you like to engage with such an app. Bottom line, both can do the job but WhatsApp comes with a far more sophisticated interface and a larger network which could give it the ultimate edge.