Gmail and Google Contacts, Minor Makeover Edition

Google Contacts is to contact management what Notepad is to word processing: functional, but too limited to be of much value.

That's too bad, because Contacts could and should be more like Google Calendar: an innovative, worthwhile alternative to Outlook.

It's not there yet (not even close), but Google has finally rolled out some much-needed updates to the Contacts app. Here's the rundown, as explained by the Google folks themselves:

  • Contacts work a lot more like Mail. Keyboard shortcuts now work in Contacts too, and we've made selecting and grouping contacts more like selecting and labeling email.
  • Sort contacts by last name. Look under More actions for this option.
  • Use custom labels for phone numbers and other fields. For example, you can label a phone number as "Vacation home." Please be aware, ActiveSync for iPhone and Blackberry Sync don't yet support custom labels so custom labeled numbers/emails/etc. may not appear on your phone.
  • Undo. Now, when you make changes to your contacts, you can undo your recent changes.
  • Automatic saving. You no longer need to worry about "edit" mode or "view" mode -- just edit away and Gmail will save your changes.
  • Structured name fields. You can now set name components (i.e. Title, First, Middle, Last and Suffix) explicitly or continue to use the name field as a free form area if you prefer a less structured approach.
  • Manual and bulk contact merge. You can now merge contacts from the More actions menu. Just select the contacts you'd like to merge and select Merge contacts from under the More actions menu. Or, to get a list of suggestions for contacts to merge, select Find and merge duplicates.
It's hard to believe it took this long to be able to sort contacts by last name, but better late than never, I guess. Personally, I'm happy to finally see some development of Contacts, which has been overlooked for far too long.

In other Google news, Gmail just got a minor makeover:

  • Mail, Contacts, and Tasks links have moved to the top left of Gmail.
  • Compose mail is now a button rather than a link.
  • A smaller header area puts the first message in your inbox about 16 pixels higher on the screen.
  • The Select All, None, Read, Unread, and Starred links that used to be above your messages are now options in a drop-down menu, next to the Archive button.
Good stuff, Google, good stuff (especially the newly relocated Contacts and Tasks links!) Now how about some love for Tasks -- like maybe an Outlook sync option? That would be manna from cloud heaven.

By the way, these changes haven't rolled out to all Google users yet, so don't be alarmed if your Gmail is still the same old, same old.