The importance of an address book

When I was in Junior High (or rather the Italian age equivalent), I used to have a small address book with the phone numbers of the few people I knew. At the time, cellphones weren’t so widespread, even in Italy, and we were too young to use them for the standards of the time.

In the first years of High School, cellphones started to spread around, I ended up having one, and I had a Filofax-like organiser that I used to write the numbers and the addresses on.

At the third year, I actually prepared a simple table with addresses and numbers of all the class members for us and the teachers.

I guess I always had the feeling I needed to organise my contacts’ information so I could access it easily.

I used to keep an almost complete contact list on KDE’s Kontact, before it lost its data a couple of time and I had to recover it from a backup. Since then, my “master” address book has been OSX’s. The nice thing about OSX’s Address Book is that it’s very easy to sync with my phone, so that the phone book there is just a copy of the one in OSX. And since OpenSync supports Evolution and my phone, I can copy the stuff back on Enterprise.

The problem here is that iSync uses a vCard 3.0 format that seems to allow customised labels on phone numbers and addresses, while the phone only keeps the standard ones. iSync also does not allow to set the “preferred” number or email address, so every time I call or send a message to someone in my phonebook, the phone asks me for which number to use. But it’s a minor issue.

Last week I started cleaning up my phone book, and filled the blanks. Like the birthdays. Even though neither Symbian nor OSX merge the data from the address book to their calendars, it’s still useful to have it written down there (I then manually file the birthdays on Google Calendar).

The relatives names are also useful: even if I don’t have a contact for them, it’s much easier to look up a name there if you forgot how the sister (or brother) of your friend is called; or if your friend have a sister (or brother) at all!

But what is the point of all this? Well, I’m afraid I haven’t seen a portable device that has an address book good enough for me. I already written about some annoyances with Nokia but for what I can see, it’s still the best choice between iPhone and Windows Mobile, at least for what concern the Address Book (synching the Windows Mobile with OSX requires paying for software, synching iPhone with Linux is unlikely at all, to begin with; and yes I do want the two systems to share the same Address Book).

I decided to lease a phone through 3 (my provider) for when I’m in the hospital, and I then decided to go with Nokia again; the nice thing is that I can change the phone if I don’t like it, without changing the lease or spending more money on it. I decided to go with an E71, the updated model of the one I am currently using (the E61). I’ll write once I have tried it whether it works with vCard 3 yet, and whether it supports a few basic features, that I think should really be considered mandatory on advanced mobile address books:

  • custom labels for phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and postal addresses: people might just have home, office and mobile numbers, but offices might have multiple phone numbers, especially public offices; (note of colour: E61’s address book supports multiple phone numbers but NOT multiple addresses);
  • support for second names: the Nokia E61 is a very strange system on that note, when I added my second name to my contact on OSX (more about that I’ll write in the future), the E61 still seen me as “Diego Pettenò”, on the other hand, using Nokia PC Suite to copy over the address book to my mother’s 6288, it appeared in there with my full two names;
  • support for nicknames: very important; I have many people who share their first name, and a few who share their last name (I have seven people named Alberto, four named Marco, five named Andrea — that’s a male name in Italy), it’d much easier to identify them by writing their nickname rather than their name, but neither Symbian nor the iPhone address book accepts lookup by nickname, even though they have it saved in;
  • handle multiple possible inbound contacts calling: my sister and my brother in law, obviously, have the same home phone number; when a call come from that number, obviously the phone cannot be a psychic and it cannot tell me which one of the two is calling, but it would be nice if it shown at least two or three possible candidates rather than showing me the raw phone number at that point; for what it’s worth, I don’t want to remove the phone number from one of the two because when I’m looking for specifically one of the two, I open the contact page on the address book, and call first home, then the personal cellphone; if one of them didn’t have the home number I’d have to switch between two contacts;
  • show the contacts’ birthdays when they happen on the calendar: please, it’s the most basic of the features, Outlook 98 had it!

On a different note, I still haven’t found a way to easily synchronise my phonebook with the Siemens S450IP cordless: I know I can upload and download the phonebook as a single vCard file with multiple contacts, but each contact only can have one number, which makes it difficult to handle an address book that is organised with multiple numbers per contact (home, work, mobile).

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