Can Contacts on iOS and OS X be better?
The Rolodex used to be a prized possession. When you got fired or you quit, it was the one thing you made sure to take with you. You kept your contacts nice and neat. I used to type mine up and print them out, fold them up, and carry them in my pocket – always – and I was sure to keep them updated. We loved and respected our contacts.
These days, contact information is still important, but not immediately necessary. I’ll just look you up. Phone number, Email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat… So many ways to get in touch. Do people even share physical addresses anymore?
We know so many more people these days, or at least we can. Who has time to manage all those contacts? I don’t. I want to. My contacts are a mess. Or at least it feels that way. Technology can easily solve this problem by providing more functionality, convenience, and a better user experience around contacts.
Some have tried to solve it. My Facebook friends are in my Contacts app, even my LinkedIn connections. There are plenty of other services and apps that have taken a stab at this. Have you heard of this Brewster thing going around?
Contacts are table stakes these days. They just live in my phone and in the cloud, frozen in time, waiting for me to use them, or change them. That’s not what real life is like, though. My contacts are real people. They live places, move around, feel up, feel down, change moods, numbers and addresses, change their hair, their likes, their dislikes, their…
And I have a history with them. I may have just met them or maybe I’ve known them for a while. Our relationship is defined or it isn’t.
Facebook is the closest to nailing this, but it’s not quite right, and it’s not what I want to use Facebook for. It’s not my Rolodex – at least not all of it.
And there’s also an undesirable trade-off between using a free and great service like Facebook on the one hand, and having to see ads and letting all this private data live on the web, on the other. My contacts are mine. My relationships are my business. I don’t want or need to have all this information live on Facebook’s servers just so they can serve me more targeted ads.
For the purpose of bringing Apple Contacts into the 21st Century, I propose two major goals:
1) In the short term, make Contacts more powerful and,
2) In the long term, leverage Contacts as a way to create an Apple Social platform that can supplant Facebook.
iCloud Contacts: It’s Alive!
Turn Contacts as they currently exist on Apple’s platforms into iCloud Contacts. With iCloud Contacts, a user only needs to manage their own personal contact information. When a user updates their info, all of their other iCloud Contacts receive that new info. Using the same verification technology behind iMessage and FaceTime, once a user turns on iCloud Contacts, they will automatically be connected to all of their existing contacts that also have iCloud Contacts enabled. Privacy management with iCloud Contacts is simple and secure. Any contact information that users may want to keep private, like their physical address, can be set to be viewable only upon request. So, the next time an acquaintance wants to mail something to your physical address, they can just request permission to view your address if they don’t have it already.
In the short term, this move will allow Apple to advance Contacts in an iterative yet powerful way. Additionally, taking this simple step could pave the way for the slow deployment of a robust and holistic social platform that harnesses Apple’s existing products and services for the purpose of connecting all of its users in a native, best-in-class social networking experience.
Apple’s Facebook Killer
As an exercise, look at all of Apple’s current products and services and think about how each could gain a social aspect if they don’t have one already, or how their existing social features could be enhanced, and then think about how they could all be integrated around Contacts for the purpose of creating a unified Apple social platform. Here is a relevant list of Apple products and services for you to use during this exercise:
Find My Friends, Photos, Apple Music, iMessage, FaceTime, Maps, iTunes U, iBooks, Podcasts, Notes, Reminders, Family Sharing, Calendar, iWork, GarageBand, Mail, Safari, App Store, iTunes Store, Mac App Store, Videos, Camera, Weather, Apple Store, Wallet, Stocks, Health, Activity, iMovie, Game Center, Find My iPhone, Trailers, iCloud Drive, Compass, Wish Lists, and…
For example, imagine being able to see what books your best friend has purchased on iBooks and requesting to read one of them together in a shared experience. Or, imagine being able to see a relationship history between you and an old friend and not feeling like that data is going to be used to serve you ads.
After this exercise, pick three tent pole features and slowly integrate them into one experience. At first, it will make sense to slowly build these new social integrations into iCloud Contacts. As more and more social features are slowly integrated and Contacts becomes more powerful, it may make sense to create a separate app that is optimized for this whole experience; let’s call it Social.
With Social, you can start to see that Apple users will no longer need to rely on Facebook and others for their social networking purposes. Apple is in the best position to provide this experience. They already know a great deal about each of their users. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, we trust them with our data; we know that Apple won’t need to rely on selling ads to keep the service running. They have the content, stores, and services to provide a holistic experience.