Apple iPad, Day 8: Managing Contacts on the iPad

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30 Days With the iPad: Day 8

One of the most important functions of my PC is to store and manage my contacts. Today for 30 Days With the iPad, I want to take a look at the tools available, and see if the iPad has what it takes to tackle this critical task.

The default option, of course, is the Contacts app in iOS. Populating the Contacts is simple--I just set my iPad to sync contact data from Microsoft Outlook on my PC when I sync the device in iTunes. Voila!

The iPad needs a solid contact manager if it wants to be my primary computing device.
The Contacts app displays an alphabetical list of all contacts on the left. The details for the currently selected contact are shown on the right, and basically include the standard phone numbers, email addresses, and mailing address.

The app lets you add a photo to the entry so you can easily identify people. It is also possible to do more with Contacts, like add a person's instant messaging info, birthdate, or other relevant dates, but it is not obvious. When you edit a contact there is a field labeled "add field", and it is behind this generic label that you can add more details.

The Contacts app on the iPad is probably fine for most people. Just sync it with Outlook, or Google Contacts, or whatever you've been using to manage the people in your life, and you will have the basic information with you on the iPad. I need something more robust, though. I don't just want a list of names and phone numbers, I want a way to organize and manage different groups of contacts.

In theory, you can group contacts--family, customers, co-workers, etc.-- to make it easier to search for specific people. However, that function apparently doesn't work in iOS 4 if you are using Exchange or Google. If you use a Mac, there may be a way to add or edit groups on the PC, but I don't have a Mac, and I am trying to use the iPad as a replacement for my PC anyway, so solutions that require the PC are not valid for this experiment.

I checked out Bento. Bento is much more than an iPad address book, and I like the app in general--but I don't really like the Address Book function. It is very similar to the iOS Contacts app in look and feel, with the addition of default fields for those tidbits of information like birthdate that require some digging in Contacts. Bento doesn't have the FaceTime button to initiate a video chat directly from the contact entry, though, so it is actually a little less functional than the iPad Contacts app.

For users who also have the Mac OS X version of Bento, the Bento iPad app is nice because it keeps everything in sync. Overall, though, I don't see any compelling reason to choose this over the iPad Contacts app, and it still doesn't deliver the features I am looking for.

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