The rumor is that eventually we’re going to see Google Voice merged completely into Hangouts, and that’s getting even closer to becoming reality. You can now make phone calls via Hangouts directly from the Google Voice website, no Google+ necessary. As Mountain View’s Alex Wiesen notes on G+, the new feature is listed as an option in the “phone to call with” drop-down box. It seems a bit minor, sure, especially when you consider that Hangouts is already how you make phone calls from within Gmail — but any updates for the oft-neglected service are welcome, right?
Source: Alex Wiesen (Google+)
Mobile dead spots can be a right headache, whether you get them at home, at work or a place you visit often. Luckily, EE and Three may soon be able to help. Earlier today, the two operators confirmed they’re going to let customers make high-quality calls and send text messages, even when there’s only a WiFi connection available. The good news is that if you’re an EE customer, you won’t notice a thing, even though the company is exercising its technological prowess silently in the background.
It works like this: once you connect your smartphone to WiFi, EE immediately hands off communication from its voice network to the broadband provider. Incoming/outgoing calls or texts are then broken down into packet data and routed back to EE’s core network, completing the circuit. Because EE utilises tech (IP Multimedia Subsystem or IMS if you’re interested) already supported by many of the latest smartphones, calls are automatically encrypted and can’t be eavesdropped upon by a public WiFi provider. You won’t need to launch an app or tweak settings on your phone either, as calls can be made through the phone’s native dialler and will be deducted from your allowance accordingly.
Three, on the other hand, plans to do things a little differently. In “early August,” the operator will launch Three inTouch, which operates much in the same way as EE (offering calls and texts over a WiFi connection). However, like O2′s TU Go, Three’s service requires the use of an app.
EE also revealed that it’ll soon start enabling VoLTE services, expanding its high-definition voice service across its networks and extending coverage to rural areas that had previously been unconnected. In regards to its WiFi plans, EE tells us that it has already tested the service on a Samsung Note 3, which was enabled by a simple over-the-air firmware upgrade sent by the carrier. Ahead of its autumn launch, the provider says it intends to test “hundreds” of public WiFi services to ensure they are capable of delivering “high-quality” calls. If they are unable to, EE says it will simply not allow customers to use them.
While it’s easy to call a store if you find it through a Google search on your phone, it’s a bit more of a hassle on your computer — you frequently have to copy the number into your voice app of choice. However, Google is removing even that minor inconvenience. The company’s search results now include a Hangouts calling option that gets you in touch with any location right through your desktop web browser; if you see a big set of digits, one click will start the conversation. As with Google’s other internet calling services, you can reach out to any American or Canadian number for free. This isn’t the biggest time-saver in the world, to be sure, but you may appreciate it the next time you’re phoning in a reservation at your favorite eatery.
Source: Mayur Kamat (Google+)
There’s no doubt that people have a common interest in emojis and stickers, so Viber knows how important it is to keep that market content. With that in mind, the service is now getting a revamped version of its desktop calling/messaging app, featuring a much more accessible way to find stickers than in previous versions. You can now search for those colorful (and mood-telling) stickers in a quicker way within the application, as well as have them docked as a menu right alongside your conversations. Viber also revealed that there are now over 100 million users on the platform, which is a pretty good number if it wants to keep up with the big players in the game — hey, Skype, Viber’s looking at you.
Skype has been lavishing attention on its Android and Windows Phone messaging apps as of late, but it’s now time for the iPhone client to get a makeover — and it’s one of the company’s biggest overhauls in recent memory. The new software brings a much fresher-looking interface that’s both in step with other platforms (chiefly Windows Phone) and lets you accomplish many common tasks faster. You can now start group chats right from the hub, and you don’t have to wait until someone hops online to send a message.
There are a lot of subtler tweaks that should go a long way toward improving the experience, too. The app’s overall performance is up to five times faster, and it’s much better at syncing message statuses as you move from device to device. So what’s the catch? Simply put, the app isn’t ready yet; Skype is launching the new iPhone version in about a week. Until it’s available, you’ll just have to make do with the teaser video below.
Let’s face it: The tech industry is starting to get used to big-name companies acquiring young, relatively successful startups. To wit, such was the case for Viber, a Tel Aviv-based service that lets you use an app to communicate through phone calls and instant messages. Viber’s acquisition by Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce and internet giant, came after the platform welcomed more than 300 million users worldwide since 2010, making it one of the most popular applications across iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. That growth, along with its flourishing appeal, have made Viber a real threat to services like Skype — though, on the messaging front, it is still trying to catch up to WhatsApp, which is at 500 million active users and counting. But despite all of this, Viber still wants to keep growing, and it plans to use Rakuten’s resources to help it get to where it wants to be.
“We continue to have fun, develop our product and introduce new and exciting updates.”
Viber’s CEO Talmon Marco told me that life at his company hasn’t changed since joining the Rakuten family: “We operate the same way [we] did before. This means we continue to have fun, develop our product and introduce new and exciting updates.” And keeping the Viber apps full of useful features is something that’s very important to Marco, which is why they’re constantly being updated on every platform. For its part, Rakuten isn’t new to the acquisition game: Back in 2012, the company completed its purchase of Kobo’s e-reading business. In a recent interview with Re/code, Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten’s co-founder and CEO, said spending $900 million on Viber was a “no-brainer,” citing the popularity of similar services as the driving force behind the acquisition.
To outsiders, it wasn’t easy to pinpoint why Rakuten would want to own Viber. However, Marco thinks this is a perfect match. “We believe mobile messaging apps like Viber are rapidly becoming the communication method of choice for most people. Both Rakuten and Viber felt user experience on many of Rakuten’s services could become better once you let people communicate with them via Viber,” Marco said. But as to which Rakuten services he’s referring to, he didn’t specify. Still, even with any future integration with products from its parent company, Viber will “continue to operate independently [from] Rakuten, but with extensive cooperation.”
“Tapping into Rakuten’s resources and know-how should help us accelerate our growth in the US and elsewhere.”
Marco also told Engadget that one of the main goals for Viber going forward is to keep expanding in the US. As popular as the app is outside of the States, Viber said the US remains its biggest market. With Rakuten on its side, Marco said Viber will have to make the most of the opportunity. “Tapping into Rakuten’s resources and know-how should help us accelerate our growth in the US and elsewhere,” he added. And if Rakuten hadn’t come into the picture, the additional resources could have come from elsewhere; Marco said that there was interest from other companies, but didn’t share the names of any of them.
Of course, as has happened on numerous occasions with these types of services, not everything has gone smoothly for Viber. In 2013, the service caught a lot of heat for an exploit that allowed hackers to bypass the Android lockscreen, and while Viber was quick to react, users weren’t too happy that this happened in the first place. But Marco told me user privacy and security are his company’s number one priority. “After all, we ourselves use the product constantly and care about our own privacy. Viber has never experienced a breach of user data or our production system,” he said. “Multiple third-party tests have demonstrated our top-notch attention to security and we continue to work hard [for] things to stay this way.”
Marco feels that combining Viber’s solid calling and messaging features with the ability to keep your data secure is a recipe for success. Ultimately, as he’s told us in the past, the goal is to bring the best talking and chatting experience to you, regardless of which operating system you are using. But will this be enough for you to pick it over a big player like Skype? Well, that call is for you to make.
[Image credits: Flickr, Sam Azgor; Getty Images]
Internet calling and messaging service Viber does a solid job of constantly bringing new features to its apps, regardless of the platform. Now, some seven months after iOS 7 was released, Viber is finally changing the looks of its iPhone app to match that flat, minimalist appearance of Apple’s OS. Aside from overhauling the UI, the Viber application now also lets you create a list of numbers you’d like to block and send longer video messages to people. The company’s CEO, Talmon Marco, tells us this update isn’t just about iOS 7, however. “This is the first time we are introducing a new look and feel for Viber. Our goal was to create a simple and friendly interface but at the same time establish a solid foundation for future updates,” Marco stated. In other words, don’t be surprised when you see some of these design cues make their way to other Viber apps, like those on Windows Phone 8 and Android.
Source: App Store
How does Viber celebrate being acquired for a ton of money? By bringing one of its most popular features, Viber Out, to Windows Phone 8 — that’s how. In second thought, we’re probably way off. Still, the Skype rival has indeed updated its WP8 application, celebration or not, allowing users to now make calls to any phone number thanks to Viber Out. This new version also lets you send video messages and multiple photos at a time, while added Bluetooth support should make it easier for you to enjoy some hands-free action. As usual, you can grab the update from the Windows Phone Store — and feel free to share your Viber 4.1 impressions with us in the comments below.
Source: Windows Phone Store
If you’ve been waiting to give LINE’s Call service a try, now’s your chance — so long as you live in the right country, anyway. Those using LINE’s Android app in Colombia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Spain, Thailand and the US can dial most any phone number at rates that might well beat what their carriers would offer. Americans get one of the best deals: their calls start at 2 cents per minute using prepaid credit, and they can pay 70 cents per month for an hour’s worth of talk time. The Chinese will get a similar bargain when Call reaches them in the near future, and LINE-to-LINE conversations are always free. There’s no iOS support yet, but we wouldn’t be shocked if the corresponding app update arrives relatively soon.
Just a few weeks after WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum hinted that his Facebook-owned service will integrate voice communication features (VoIP, specifically) into its apps by this summer, we’re finally seeing alleged screenshots that show off what it’ll look like on iOS. The shots, which were leaked by iPhoneItalia, show an interface that looks awfully similar to the iOS 7.1 phone UI — complete with circular buttons, blurred background and even a similar keyboard (is the shift key on or off?), albeit with a camera button on top. We’re hearing that you’ll be able to make calls for free over WiFi or cellular, which will help WhatsApp compete against the litany of other VoIP apps and services available on the market.