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Looking for the best contacts application

By Jean-Claude Elias - Aug 15,2019 - Last updated at Aug 15,2019

Applications that let you keep and manage your contacts are probably among the most widely used of them all. Even if your computing needs are few, if you are not particularly demanding and like to keep your life with technology uncomplicated, chances are that you do use a contact application, if only as a simple phone book. And yet, quite strangely, after all these years, and in spite of the importance of the subject, the perfect contact application is yet to be found.

One of the difficulties in designing the ultimate contact software programme, one that would be so good that “you will never need another contact app” as they say, is that it could be very simple in structure or, at the other end, extremely complex.

Very simple means that it handles the basic, essential fields: first name, last name, telephone numbers and e-mail address, for example. From there you can take it to higher heights, to manage information like company name, job title, street address, business category, relationship, Skype name, location, website URL, ID photo, keywords, date of entry and tens of other possible fields.

Sometime users are given the possibility to create their own customised fields. In business, when such software is meant to handle a large number of fields and to follow up on clients, it is sometimes referred to as CRM (Customer Relationship Management).

Naturally, the IT industry has been providing contacts software for decades. One of the best, most detailed such application is found in Microsoft Outlook. Another very popular one is Google Contacts that you use and operate online, as one of Google’s services, if you have a Google account (i.e. a Gmail address).

To satisfy everyone is impossible, understandably. After the basic data fields above, we all have different needs, different taste and want to deal with different levels of complexity. Over the last few years, however, coming up with the near-perfect contacts app has become more difficult for two specific reasons. The first is the need to run the app on various platforms and operating systems, namely Android, Windows, iOS, and of course online. The second is the need to have automatic, trouble-free, continuous backup of the data stored.

Indeed, no one likes to handle their contacts on their smartphone, and then manage another set of the same data on say a desktop Windows computer. We all know the headache and the time wasted that this implies.

If you go to Google Play store or the App Store, searching for a good contacts app, you will be confronted with a first, perhaps unexpected difficulty: the choice you will have to make between hundreds — literally — of such applications, all claiming to do the same job, and all claiming to be the best at it.

Taking everything into consideration, one of the most efficient, practical applications in this line probably is Google Contacts. Far from being perfect, from the purely technical viewpoint of an IT software professional, it has a reasonable, moderate level of complexity, handles the data fields that 90 per cent of the population needs rather well, and — the key point here — it automatically synchronises the data you have on your phone with the set stored online. You can then manage it from a web browser, from anywhere, or from your smartphone. Data will always be synchronised on both, and will be available, and safely backed up, what is more.

It has a few shortcomings though, which is quite surprising given that it is the brainchild of a leading, powerful IT player such as Google, one of the now famous GAFA group!

It lets you import and export data, in case you need to manipulate it in other applications, for mailing lists for instance. However, if you export in the well-known CSV (comma separated value) format, and although this format is usually opened and read with Microsoft Excel, it is only if you open the so-exported CSV file with the online Google Sheets that you will find your contacts in good shape. For example, a telephone number stored a +962 7 9900 5544 could be misunderstood by Excel and displayed as the “mathematical” number 9.62799E+11. There are ways, of course, to overcome such difficulty, but not everyone is willing or has the technical knowledge to correct this.

Despite the few imperfections, the qualities, the built-in functionalities and the advantages of Google contacts by far outweigh the shortcomings. Overall, it may well be the smartest way to handle your contacts, be it for personal or for professional use.

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