Viber Out reminds us that the world is far from being online

Viber ​Out lets you call any phone number, whether mobile or stationary. A bit retro? Not really. The newest addition to Viber‘s services show that we aren’t even close to global connectivity.

There are currently about 1.4 billion smartphones worldwide. It’s a massive number, but compared to the more than 7 billion people out there in the world, it pales in significance. In India, for example, over 80% of mobile phones are similar to the Nokia models that Westerners were using ten years ago, mobile phones without Internet access or apps. The battle between Android and iOS hasn’t even reached them yet.

Proportion of smartphones to normal mobiles in India

Proportion of smartphones to normal mobiles in India (source)

In short, the vast majority of the world’s population doesn’t know about WhatsApp. SMS usage is heavy, and call traffic is far from being wiped out. Maybe Californians no longer call each other on the phone, but all you have to do is visit an African capital to realize that people are still connecting to each other from internet cafes and constantly sending texts, even if they do have smartphones with internet capabilities.

Percentage of smartphones as a proportion of the total population in four sub-Saharan countries

Percentage of smartphones as a proportion of the total population in four sub-Saharan countries (source)

Viber Out is both an intelligent and a humble app

Viber launched Out a month earlier than planned to support those affected by Typhoon Haiyan. In the Philippines, a nation of nearly one hundred million people, only 33% have access to the Internet, and the majority still use a residential connection. Where mobile networks fail or just haven’t been put in place, landlines are still the most reliable form of communication. Even in the best connected areas of the world, mobile networks can fail in an emergency.

In an area devastated by disaster, there are many problems facing a fixed telephone network

In an area devastated by disaster, there are many problems facing a fixed telephone network

So, while launching a seemingly “retro” feature like SMS support for Google Hangouts, or the ability to make a call to any phone with Viber Out, may seem like a step back, it actually proves to be more of an act of humility. It means recognizing that the world is not confined to the fortunate few who can connect to the Internet from anywhere. At least, not until Google manages to connect the entire population in 2014 by using hot air balloons.

What do you think about the ability to call regular phones from Viber?

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