Learning to love Contacts.app

Why doesn’t Contacts work the way I think it should or the way my previous favorite app did?

1. The majority of average users are most interested in KNOWING that their contacts are the same in all locations; desktop, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Web. They want this action to be passive, i.e. not requiring any interaction or knowledge.

2. Some business clients want deeper integration into their workflows - CRM, (Customer Relations Management). CRM solutions might provide additional information like contact history, links to documents, emails, etc. as well as tight integration with a calendar.

3. Data that collectively represents a "contact" is not something easily pinned down. Put any two people in a room and ask them what should be part of a contact record and you're likely to have an argument. Add more people and you add to the size of the argument.

4. Add a variety of logical plans for storage, formatting and syncing of data and we begin tilting toward chaos.

5. Everyone expects moving from one contact application to another to be simple, easy and to properly transfer all data.

This doesn't all work together. Ever.

The current standard for storing contact data is vCard. vCard is an evolving standard with versions and changes. Before 2006 we didn't need a field for Twitter, just to give an example of why it evolves.

Take a break and read Wikipedia on vCards. Here’s the section showing the different properties in v2, v3 and v4. When you add all that together with the extensions your head should begin to spin. All of these fields are sensible and most would be able to appreciate a logical argument for these to be part of a contact record. But I'll bet you can come up with some piece of information you would also like to track.

What can we take away from this? It's best to try to stay with a standard that MOST companies will respect. vCard is that format today. Some applications are stuck on older versions, but Apple is one of the developers of the vCard format. It's likely that they'll stay with it and stay up to date. There are other formats, but for the safety of your data use what's known and supported with the majority of things you work with and is most likely to continue.

That's the underlying architecture behind storing contacts, but what about extending functionality? And suddenly we're talking about DayLite.

DayLite doesn't store its data as a vCard, but it can export to and import from vCard. However, DayLite uses their own format so they can extend what a contact database does. But what happens when it gets to the iPhone or other uses? Sometimes it's ok, sometimes not so ok.

I can't say where this all leaves you, but for me it makes me love the reliability of Contacts. Yup, it's plain, ugly, kind of odd in some ways (adding fields to the template? Why aren't they there?) but, it does work reliably and the trip around all the devices works properly.

It’s pointless to be wistful about some old app you used to love for contact management. Some of them stored data in wildly proprietary ways that make people like me go ballistic when trying to move the data (I'm looking at you Now Contact!) because I can't give you a Contacts file with everything you had in Now Contact. I can do a decent job, but multiple notes per contact? Keywords that are server-based and some not? No. Never mind the goofy fields that only mattered to them.

Go for a system that works reliably over ones that look good or fulfills edge-case needs. Life is too short!

Solutions Consulting - 310-838-5224 or benlevy@rockinbeat.com