Contacts – The Evolution Of The Mobile Phonebook

Pre, Pre, Pre. That's all the web is abuzz with recently. The main reason for that is the Palm Pre's "Synergy" system. This system allows you to log in to selected popular online communities and have updates downloaded to your phone automatically. It's quite an interesting system really, you can sign in to Google Calendar and have your calendar entries brought down the wire and into your phone, sign in to Facebook and have your Facebook contacts brought down to your phone and integrated with your other contacts (to the point that when someone changes their display photo it changes on your phone too) as well as your messaging inbox. Most of the most popular communities are covered and more are being added all the time.

It's an interesting idea that has driven America wild since it's unveiling a month or so ago. However, it's not a very original idea, About a year ago I posted about the INQ1 social media phone that does pretty much the same things. And now the same company is releasing a new version of the phone that brings the same experiences, caters to the most popular wishes of their users (the QWERTY keyboard and wide screen being especially asked for by those that used the phone for e-mail) and adds Twitter into the mix just for fun.

This trend has gotten me thinking about the evolution of the mobile address book. Once upon a time in the distant past we could only have one number per name, and even then only as amny names as your SIM card could hold. Things evolved and Nokia introduced an on-device phonebook application which soon evolved further to allow for (shock, horror!) up to five numbers per name and a text note too. My current phone has options for many different contact details, even going so far as to add a section for notes about a contacts children (so you can look like you give a rat's ass) and another for the spouse. These changes only happened a decade ago yet we're now at the point where most of us use our Contacts application for much more than phone numbers. Even before these social media phones started hitting the news, my Contacts had more e-mail addresses and other details listed than it had phone numbers. Some of my contacts only have web addresses, some have home addresses and birthdays, others still have company details (I have a chinese takeaway listed with it's online menu address and a note of their opening times and delivery charges, for example). Things just keep progressing, with most manufacturers now having some form of online compatibility built in, from RSS feeds to social media integration. Our contacts list is evolving in new and exciting ways every day and social media is just another addition.

A while back I was asked by a couple of people how I view the future of mobile phones. The article I wrote up was quite dry and entirely too large for me to post from my phone, but this is an excerpt from the section regarding the evolution of the Contacts application.


I believe that the Contacts application is on the verge of going through yet another major evolution and that these online functions are only the beginning steps of this. The emerging application (which I'll dub "Connections" here as I believe it deserves a new name) will be so much more than a list of people and details about them. Connections will bring true online connectivity to your phonebook, and combine parts of several other major applications together. Messaging is one of the other core applications that will be integrated into Connections with separate inbox views as well as threaded message history in each person's entry and links to other people involved in group messages or calls.

Calendar integration will allow you to keep updated on your friends plans as their online calendars are downloaded in the background to your device and integrated with your own calendar. Flicking between layers of the calendar will be easy enough and you'll be able to bring up a single calendar layer straight from that person's connection entry. Wondering when your favourite band is on tour? Create a connection entry for them and the details will be entered into your calendar as they happen. Click on a concert date and you'll be taken to a site where you can order tickets.

We're already starting to see social media being streamed into contacts (but only from the big names) but Connections will take that one step further with users able to set up downloads from any site that has an RSS feed and retain styling based on personal preferences, with the updated set-up being pushed as an option in the default list to all other devices. This means that the very first person to set up a feed from a site may have a complex set-up procedure to go through (a form that would have to allow for variables from all sites) but, once they've done that, the site would then be added to the default list for other devices and other users would only be presented with the form parts that they need in order to set up their account.

Bookmarks will also be integrated into Connections. While now we have to click on a bookmark and visit a site before we can start doing anything on that site, Connections will allow us to start doing things straight away. One example would be a Wikipedia connection entry that allows us to visit the site, or search straight from the search bar contained within the entry. Wikipedia, being a large and well known site, may even provide some downloadable styling for their entry in your connections application. Or suppose, like me, you keep a close eye on the weather. You may have set up a connections entry for a meteological site.Again you could visit the site from the entry easily enough, but the entry will also be downloading your local weather directly to your device and displaying it in your connection for it. Advanced options will let you display the Wikipedia search bar or downloaded weather directly on your home screen, turn updates off to conserve battery life or add another source to the connection (a Google entry may have a general and an image search bar for example).


The phonebook application is, and always has been, the heart of a mobile phone and it's constantly changing. I wonder what will come next?

This series of posts continues with a look at the future of mobile applications.

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8 thoughts on “Contacts – The Evolution Of The Mobile Phonebook

  1. That falls under the domain of the messaging feature I'm working on. This is contacts alone, the first core of the mobile phone and something that is so regularly overlooked while buying a phone.

  2. These are things I've been doing for years now with a variety of smart and feature phones. It's been possible for so long yet no-one tried these things because they assumed they wouldn't be possible. It's not down to the phones being too difficult or people needing better skills to use them, it's down to the attitude towards phones. For so long people viewed mobile web as green screen, crappy service, with no practical usage. It may have started that way but so did desktop web and both are evolving into one another now.Phones like the iPhone, Android models and the Palm Pre are making America think differently about phones and giving them a more European way of seeing their capabilities. Of the three, Android has the highest potential for the future combining ease of use and power. The highest powered smartphone OS at the moment is S60 but it lacks the ease of use. For those looking to graduate from Android (which is still in it's infancy) to get more power and applications at the expense at some of the ease, it's the perfect next step. When Symbian 4 comes out in 2011-2012 then we'll be seeing something special. The ease and polish of the new breed combined with the pure power and multiple application runtime environments of S60. Clint, I've been having trouble synching to that. One network says it's unsecure, another says it doesn't exist, and Wi-fi disconnects before the synch is complete. :irked: I've never really been a fan of primarily cloud based back-up and storage solutions. It feels like one power cut somewhere and the whole lot is gone.

  3. The evolution of phones like the Android, makes it easier for phone idiots like me to do more with them.It streams everything from Google so all of the services are available. The phone recognizes phone numbers and addresses in emails and lets you call or add to your contacts with a click.There are apps that feed your social networking updates straight to your phone. I am starting to wonder if I really need a laptop for anything except to charge my phone with the USB.

  4. Um … for some reason I can see a couple of buttons telling me to delete spam trackbacks (as well as a couple of spam trackbacks). Since I'm not logged in as you, I can't figure out why I'm seeing it … :confused:

  5. Trackbacks and the system behind them became visible to everyone in the last update. You can't click them on others pages (I've tried). These are some of the cleanest I've had anyway, but I usually keep on top of them.

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