As part of our 2018 update to Lifehacker’s (sprawling) list of essential iOS apps, I did a little digging to find third-party apps for managing your address book that were better than Apple’s default Contacts app.
There aren’t any. At least, none that I found were worth using for more than a day (or even installing on my iPhone to begin with). And even the process of letting others have access to your contacts feels troubling, because you have no idea what other companies are doing with the information you provide.
What’s wrong with Apple’s Contacts app?
Let me back up a minute. Apple’s Contacts app is fine for the basics, but it would be great if it gave you more ways to automate the ingestion of information. For example, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to link up various social media services—LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Mastodon, or whatever—and have your contacts automatically update whenever friends or colleagues make changes to their information?
Heck, I still miss the feature, removed as of iOS 11, that allowed you to import your contacts’ Facebook profile photos. It never worked perfectly, but it was better than staring at a big gray silhouette. Conversely, I’d love to know about my friends’ job updates without having to dump every LinkedIn contact I have onto my device. And those who are more popular than me—which doesn’t take much—would probably like an easy way to de-dupe multiple contacts if they’ve imported a sea of contacts from other services.
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Third-party contact management apps can be a headache
There are a number of contact management apps on the App Store, but I remain unimpressed. Those I’ve tried so far—including Covve, CircleBack, and Sync.mc—either feel needlessly complex in a “borderline CRM” kind of way, are very encouraging to get you to sign up for premium subscription services, don’t work at all, or make my privacy flag start flapping.
That last point, especially, is a great reason to not turn over your contact information to other apps and services. I’m not saying that Apple or Google are perfect, but I have a stronger belief that they aren’t creating some secret database of contact information for eventual misuse (like selling the data to other companies, cough Facebook). Apps and services that you know little about, but want you to import for all of your contacts into their databases to help you “manage” your address book, make me (and others) a little nervous.
Even if you don’t care much about your own privacy, because you’re not very concerned about others associating your phone number with your social media accounts or work credentials, think about your friends. Depending on the app or service you’re using, you might be helping a company create a digital dossier on someone who hasn’t consented to sharing their information—all thanks to you. You’re contributing to the Facebook effect, as mentioned.
I’ve used various “sync” apps over the years to pretty up my contact list, and now I wish I hadn’t. For the people closest to you, just take a photo of their faces and store that as the primary image. If you don’t have someone’s most recent number, use the myriad of messaging services at your disposal to ask them for an updated one. You could even do that in person, too, the next time you see them.
And if keeping your contacts updated on your iPhone is too difficult, and you don’t have a Mac to use to update your iCloud contacts, use Google Contacts instead. The service allows you to remove duplicates, manage your contacts’ information, and delete people you don’t care about. Sync Google’s list to your iPhone or iPad and use that instead of your iCloud contacts. You’ll at least be able to regain a little control over your address book without letting some random service organize it by rifling through your virtual Rolodex and copying everything it can.