Dear Apple: Let’s Improve Contact Saving

An open letter to Apple to help improve a basic functionality on iOS: saving a contact.

Dear Apple,

In 1999 when the Palm V and Palm VII introduced contact beaming, I was excited. I was excited because I thought that we were finally in a world where we could trade contact information electronically. (Yes, that is how long I’ve thought about this problem!) But today—more than 20 years later—the problem of easily exchanging contact information between people with two smart devices is surprisingly broken and brittle.

Everyone with a smartphone expects that it should be possible to download and save contact information on their phone with one tap. However, it’s not that simple because of limitations imposed by iOS. 

My team and I have researched this extensively. We’ve ended up at our wit’s ends trying to find a way to deliver a delightful user experience for being able to exchange contact information easily. However, this process is invariably stymied and ends up in a sequence of confusing taps that people often fail to perform correctly or are unable to perform correctly because of the specific situation on their device.

I’m writing an open letter requesting three very simple (and what we believe are safe) changes to iOS. These changes will help improve the basic need that over a billion iOS users face: exchanging contact information. 

Recommendation #1: Fix the inconsistency between the Contacts app and mobile Safari UI when saving a vCard

When you receive someone’s contact information, it is usually in the form of a vCard or a .VCF file. The vCard encapsulates contact information in a text file that various applications can read. Apple supports the vCard format, but the user interface (UI) presented by the Contacts app and by Mobile Safari when opening a vCard file is slightly different, leading to a confusing experience for users.

Saving a contact in the Contacts app

When you open a vCard with the Contacts app, the action sheet that is presented to the user has actions that are very clear. It includes a Save button on the right and a Cancel button on the left. Therefore, the user’s expectation is clear: they need to hit Save to save the contact, and the call to action (CTA) is visible to the user on the action sheet.

The below screenshots taken from the iOS Contacts App show the Cancel and Save buttons shown clearly at the top of the contact when saving a vCard:

The above screenshots taken from the iOS Contacts App show the Cancel and Save buttons shown clearly at the top of the contact when saving a vCard

Saving a contact in mobile Safari

When you open a vCard with mobile Safari, the action sheet that is presented looks similar but with a few subtle but important differences. The Save and Cancel buttons are missing and replaced with a Done and a share button. This is very confusing for users. The user expectation is that they should hit Done, and that would save the contact. We’ve heard this from a lot of users!

The above screenshots show how the Cancel and Save buttons do not appear when saving the vCard file through Mobile Safari. Instead, the user needs to scroll to the bottom to tap on Create New Contact or Add to Existing Contact.

However, tapping Done closes the sheet and doesn’t save the contact. For the user to save this contact, they need to scroll all the way to the bottom and then tap Create New Contact or Add to Existing Contact. However, the placement of these actions is such that most users don’t know they are supposed to do this. This is especially a problem when the vCard contains more information than a phone number, and these buttons end up below the fold, thereby providing no affordance to the user that they even exist.

A much better solution would be to replicate the functionality the Contacts app offers and provide Cancel and Save buttons at the top of the sheet. That would make it very easy for users to save the card. Since iOS already does duplicate detection, there is no need to have the user choose whether they want to add it to a new contact or an existing contact.

Recommendation #2: Allow people to choose which Contact List they want to save into

People who have set up multiple accounts (for example, iCloud, Exchange, or Google) often don’t know their default contacts provider. Since people use the same device for both personal and business purposes, it would be helpful if the user could choose which Contact List they wish to save the contact to when adding the contact. This way, they could add a personal contact to their iCloud account and a business contact to their Exchange or Google account, as the case may be.

Recommendation #3: Allow for link descriptions

The Contacts app already allows contacts to include arbitrary URLs. However, these URLs can only have specific titles in the contacts app. It would be fantastic if the Contacts app would allow users to include descriptive text for these links. For example, a restaurant may be able to have a link to “See our menu,” or a professional may be able to include a link to “Schedule a meeting” directly in their contact information. We have received this request from several HiHello customers. They want their clientele and customers to save their contact information on their devices and have specific calls to action within that contact. 

As our interaction with people has become more than just making a phone call or sending a text, having a call to action in the contact information makes a lot of sense. For example, a hair stylist may have a link to “Book an appointment.” 

We recognize that this may require an update to the somewhat archaic and dated vCard 4.0 standard. Still, our team at HiHello would only be delighted to collaborate with you to help develop and adopt a new standard for contact information.

Like Apple, HiHello aspires to deliver a delightful experience to our users, and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Apple to help make this happen for the billion iPhone users. We hope you will receive our feedback positively,  and we’re always here to address any questions you may have.

Thank you.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Manu Kumar

Cofounder and CEO

HiHello, Inc.

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