Interact: Better iOS Contact Management

The native Contacts app on the iPhone and iPad has always left me a little bit wanting. I use and create contact groups all the time. For instance, if I go to a conference for a week, I will set up a custom group that has the contact information for the hotel, transportation, my co-presenters, and a reputable bail bondsman. After the trip is over, I’ll delete the group and move on.

The trouble is, I have to create those groups on my Mac. While the iPad and iPhone can access the groups after I form them (provided they are not smart groups), I can't actually make the groups on my device. With respect to the lack of this feature, I've traversed the various stages of grief and am now firmly at "acceptance".

That is why I was so pleased to discover that Greg Pierce, the genius behind Agile Tortoise and Drafts, decided to take on contact management on the iPhone and iPad. The result is the new application that just released called Interact (Website) (iOS App Store).

Interact has the clean design that we see with most modern IOS applications but manages at the same time to present your contact information more densely than the standard Contacts application. For example, the default method of displaying contacts on the iPad Pro with Interact is three columns which can put a lot of contacts on the screen at one time.


Contact groups slide out from the left side of the screen and have a convenient tally with the number of contacts in each group right next to the name. Even better, there is an "Edit" button that lets you manage groups for the first time on the iPhone and the iPad but I will explain that further later.

For a 1.0 version application, Interact has a lot of nice touches. Scrolling up and down with your finger on the right edge and searching are both wicked-fast. On the surface, Interact is a fast, clean contacts manager. 

On the surface. 

There are some additional power features that really make this app shine.

Managing Groups

As I explained earlier, I'd pretty much given up on managing Contact groups on iOS. Interact fixes that. I am now able to add, edit, and delete groups on my iPad and and iPhone and (even better) then see them appear nicely organized when I returned to my Mac. Note that this only works in the default system account and it must be using the vCard protocol. (iCloud and Google both work but if you have more than one account, it will only work in your primary account.) Since I manage all contacts in one iCloud account, I had no problem but this could be a limitation if you use more than one service. 

In addition to adding, removing, and editing groups, you can also add and remove group members. Just select a group and then tap on the Add Contacts to Group button and you are off to the races. It was all very intuitive and, as a Beta testor, I was witness to the hard work the developer went through to make it as easy as possible for users. For instance, to remove a member from the group, just tap on the "X" button next to their name.

A nice touch is the ability to see all of the groups a specific contact belongs to. From that view, you can use checkboxes to add and remove that member from specific groups in the same screen. This is another feature I would like to see on the Mac.

Somewhat related is are Interact Operations. Using groups of selected contacts, you can perform actions on them like deletion, group creation,  adding to existing groups, and even sharing groups of contacts’ vCard information.

The Scratchpad

Don't forget that Interact is made by the same guy that brought us Drafts. You can see this lineage with the Scratchpad feature. Using the Scratchpad, you can copy text including address and contact information into the application and it will automatically parse that out into contact data that can be added to an existing contact or create a new one. There is even an extension so you can select text in some other app, like your email client, and automatically send it to Interact to perform its magic. This is a great feature, which the developer screencasted right here to explain. In all of my years of using iOS, I’ve never seen a faster way to grab unformatted contact information and add it to my contact database. Because Interact works with the same database as the native Contacts application, any data you add in Interact populates across your device and back to your Mac.

The whole experience of using the Scratchpad reminds me a lot of the first time I started using Fantastical to add calendar appointments. No longer am I forced to constrain myself to the requirements of the computer. Instead I just give the computer data and it does the work for me. I love this feature and now I wish I had it on my Mac too.

Using Context

Interact also has a clever sharing feature called Context. This is a way to access your contacts from other applications. If, for instance you have a bit of text you want to send off to multiple family members as email or a text message, you can access the Interact Context feature through the iOS share sheet. Tap on the Interact icon and it gives you a list of your groups. With the above example, you could select your family group and then individually select the specific members to receive the message. Then you can tap on the mail or the message icon and Interact opens up the appropriate application with the text copied in and the selected contacts already in the addressee line. In short, it lets you take bits of text and easily send them off to people from your contact list. I did mention this application was from the same guy who made Drafts, right?

I think the earlier analogy to Fantastical sticks. Interact brings a lot of utility and power to contact managers that I simply haven't seen before. You can learn more on the website or in the App Store.