I get to use most of the newest devices and test out all the platforms in my job. My "go-to" phone is the iPhone 4S, but there are features I see on other devices that I really wish were present in iOS. At the top of the list of wants is rich contact integration with my social networks.
WebOS had perhaps the most elegant approach with Synergy. If you have a contact on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Gmail –- whatever -– just log in and you get a unified contact card with all that information. Doesn’t sound so hard, right?
Now, Android does this pretty well, Windows Phone does a great job with the People hub and QNX –- the OS on the BlackBerry Playbook (and the upcoming BlackBerry 10) -- does an amazing job at this contact integration.
So, why is it so hard for iOS to get this one important feature right? Well, we will have to let the boys and girls in Cupertino figure that one out. For now, there is a way to get all this information into the Contacts app... it just takes a little extra work.
In the old days, you needed to connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC and then sync your contacts from your Outlook, Google or native contacts app on the computer. It was messy and often inaccurate. Now, fortunately, the majority of our contacts get “sucked into” the iPhone through some sort of cloud syncing.
If you don’t yet have your iCloud contacts on your iPhone, just go to your Settings app and then touch the iCloud tab. Just turn the Contacts switch to the ON position and all your iCloud contacts will be in sync with your iPhone, Mac, iPad, etc.
If you use the standard Gmail setup (IMAP instead of Exchange, see below), getting your Google Contacts onto your iPhone or iPad isn't as easy as it should be. When you typically sign into a Google account you can choose to sync your email, calendar and notes – but not your Google contacts. The easiest way to do this is either:
To export your Google contacts
To import these contacts to your iCloud account for syncing:
If that is either confusing or a pain in the rear, the other option is to set up your Google account as an Exchange account which will wirelessly sync all your Google account data –- Contacts, Calendars, Notes, etc with your iphone.
Most of us have our contacts spread out over our various apps –- especially our social networking apps. I have lots of data for some folks in my Google account, but they are not Facebook friends. The reverse is often true as well. There is a way to get your Facebook contacts into your iPhone – you just have to dig a little to find it.
First off, make sure you have the latest version of the Facebook app downloaded from the App Store.
NOTE: This is not perfect, after doing this several times I still have some Facebook contacts whose Facebook page is not listed in their iPhone Contact card.
When it does work, just tap the Facebook address and you can launch their Facebook page right from the Contacts app.
For many of us, we follow people on Twitter who are not our “friends.” For others, we would like to have the Twitter information for our Contacts in case we do want to follow or Direct Message them. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do.
NOTE: As with Facebook, there are some privacy concerns here. Twitter essentially takes all the email addresses and phone numbers stored in your Contacts app and cross references them against their database to get you the Twitter contact information.
LinkedIn may be where most of your professional contacts are stored. For many of us, this is yet another completely different list of contacts than those stored in Gmail or Facebook. Fortunately, it is easy to get your LinkedIn data into the iPhone.
NOTE: I experienced some interesting things when I did this; some of my contacts, which had their Facebook page link in the web page section of the Contact card, now had the LinkedIn page instead of the Facebook page. The Contact photo changed according to which app I used last to sync contacts. In some cases, I really wanted the Facebook photo and not the LinkedIn one, so I had to go back and sync the photos from Facebook to replace the LinkedIn ones.
If at this point you are saying to yourself “this is way too complicated” you may be right, but it is the best way to get all this data into one place – Your Contacts app.
iOS has the ability to link Contacts, so if you had more than one Contact for the same person, you could combine them into a unify view. However, it doesn't seem to work anymore (or was removed). Hopefully this get restored or fixed in iOS 6. Until then, you will need to go to your computer and go to the web site or app and merge the contacts that then sync with your phone.
If you sync your contacts via Google, the process of merging contacts is not too complicated.
For Mac users, Finding and merging your duplicates in Address Book (Contacts under Mountain Lion) is quite easy.
NOTE: If you currently manage your contacts through the iCloud website, there is no way to merge your duplicate contacts from the Contacts app on iCloud.
So, after all this, you should have all your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn contacts along side your Google or whatever other contacts you have on your iPhone. You can launch the Facebook page of your contacts; go to their Twitter page or LinkedIn page right from their Contact card.
This is not a perfect solution as we said at the outset. We wish that you could send a Facebook message or a Direct Message like you can from other platform Contact apps. We wish you could see status updates in the Contact app like the BlackBerry Playbook. Hopefully, these things will be on the horizon for us iOS users.
Do you have other thoughts about the Contacts app on iOS? Have you found other solutions for merging your data? Let us know in the forums.