Fast Contact Creation with Interact

Last year, I wrote Sending Group Emails in iOS, where I showed how to use TextExpander and Drafts to efficiently send emails to a list of recipients on iOS. Apple’s Contacts app doesn’t let you do that at all, unless by “group mail” you mean, “manually add every single recipient from a group with a two-to-three tap interaction” and “you better hope you’ve already created a group on your Mac, because you can’t do it in iOS”.

Earlier this month, Interact, by the maker of Drafts, was released. Dr. Drang tweeted about it, which is what got my attention. Since Drafts is one of my most-used apps, I bought Interact about 15 seconds after reading the description.

Interact is a contacts manager for iOS. The selling point for me was actually not the group management features, but the scratchpad. Dr. Drang’s post about Interact explains the details, but similar to Fantastical, Interact uses language parsing to figure out what bits of information should be entered into what fields in the contacts database. It works directly with your contacts on your phone, so changes should be instant locally, and sync to your other devices through iCloud via Apple’s native Contacts app.

One limitation I found on the first day I used Interact was that it didn’t support the full complement of fields available. I often use Phonetic First Name and Phonetic Last Name for Japanese names because even native speakers often need pronunciation cues,[1] particularly for given names. You’ll be forgiven a first mistaken reading, but you really need a pronunciation guide to prevent future problems. Japanese businesses have fields in contact forms for phonetic transcriptions of both names and addresses, and people with uncommon readings for their names usually include furigana on their business cards.

I wrote a support email to Agile Tortoise (i.e.: Greg Pierce) basically saying that he’d made something great, but hoping that he’d implement support for those fields[2] in a future update. It makes sense for a developer to address the majority use case before looking at fringe ones like my bilingual operating environment, but lo and behold the change notes for Interact 1.0.1:

  • Change: Scratchpad tag helpers now insert tag at beginning of current line if no text is selected.
  • New: phoneticFirst and phoneticLast scratchpad tags.

(Bolding mine.)

The change I was hoping for someday, maybe: it’s on the second line of the first point-update. I wrote that email only about four days ago. This is a developer who absolutely responds to user requests. Buy some of his apps!

Even without TextExpander snippets for tagging fields, I’d be able to add a contact much, much more quickly and easily than I could with the built-in Contacts app. With TextExpander, I can add a contact in seconds. I have a few times a year where I need to add several contacts in quick succession, sometimes in the person’s presence, so this isn’t just a nice convenience for me, it’s a huge productivity booster. Especially impressive; Interact correctly identified the elements of a Japanese address, even though English is the only language claimed to be supported. It needs help with the names, but that’s a very quick select-and-tap tagging process.

Interact’s implementation of groups makes it possible to actually use groups on iOS. Previously, through the Contacts app, a group was useful only to give you a shorter list to choose from, but was basically useless otherwise. I will almost certainly be using groups more in the future, whereas I almost completely ignored them before.

  1. I’ve had reception duties where we’re dealing with literally hundreds of people. Many family names are quite common, but you can easily guess the wrong reading even for simple kanji. For example, 長田 is usually read Nagata, but could be Osada. It is literally impossible to guess the right reading 100% of the time when there might be several possible name readings for a particular set of characters.  ↩

  2. The Phonetic First / Last fields are actually in the spec for the address book, but are not in the standard set of entry fields displayed when the language environment is English — they are shown by default in Japanese. You can go to the “add field” section of the Contacts app in Edit mode when adding or editing a contact in English to activate them, but you can’t change settings to have them on by default, which is a bit of a pain in the ass if you’re adding more than one contact at a time.  ↩