In the same way cellphone address books helped people stop memorizing phone numbers, the magic of auto-complete helped them stop memorizing email addresses. This feature, which is built into most email programs, lets users type as few as one or two letters before seeing and selecting from a list of addresses that may or may not be saved in the email program’s address book. Too bad auto-complete on your mobile device doesn’t work the same way.
On mobile devices, the suggested names in the “To” line only include those of contacts that are saved in a device’s digital address book. This leaves people stuck mid-thumb, trying to remember an email address, or worse, being forced to wait until they return to their desks to send a message.
This week, I tested an app that generates contact information for every person a user has ever communicated with in Microsoft Outlook—or if Outlook isn’t a factor, just with the device. I tested Xobni Mobile for BlackBerry, available as of March 16 at http://xobni.com/mobile. Xobni Mobile costs $10 as a stand-alone app from Xobni Corp. or $7 if it’s bought with Xobni One, the company’s new cloud-based storage service that costs $4 monthly. One year of Xobni Mobile with the Xobni One service costs $40.
I tested Xobni Mobile on my BlackBerry Curve 8900 and used the Xobni One service to connect with Outlook, which was running on my PC with Xobni’s desktop program installed. This app makes a big difference for people like me, who rarely sync their devices with their PCs, don’t primarily correspond with people in their corporate Exchange networks and don’t like taking the time to manually add names, email addresses and phone numbers into the Contacts section of the BlackBerry. This app also uses Xobni’s analytics feature to rank people, thus returning results sorted according to how much a user emails with someone.
Xobni Mobile could stand to do a better job of meshing with the BlackBerry’s operating system, especially considering that the company worked with Research in Motion (RIMM) to build a deeply integrated app. I’ll admit that it comes close—a finger swipe up on the email-compose screen opens the Xobni app. But as my high-school economics teacher always said, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. The process required to open the app, type the contact’s name, select the name from within the Xobni app and return to the compose screen can feel too long and a bit clumsy.
Another downside is that the Xobni Mobile app doesn’t yet integrate with text messaging or dialing numbers, so rather than pull up a phone number from within the device’s texting or dialing interface, users must open the app and select a contact before calling or texting. A Xobni representative said the company is working with RIM on deeper integration.
Xobni (“inbox” spelled backwards) started a couple years ago with its namesake product, a downloadable add-on for Outlook that analyzed and indexed all emails and ran in a side panel within the email program. Since its introduction, Xobni for Outlook has added enhancements, including the built-in ability to display an email contact’s Twitter and Facebook profiles. And some of these spill over into the mobile app.
Souping Up a Device
The Xobni desktop program currently works only on PCs (not Macs) that have Outlook installed, and runs only on high-end BlackBerrys, including the Curve 8900, Tour, Storm, Bold and Bold 2. The Xobni Mobile app connected to Xobni for Outlook using Xobni One considerably soups up the experience, adding an average of 10-times more contacts than the BlackBerry alone. The top 6,000 contacts (according to the analysis of who you email the most) will be stored locally on the device, as well as each contact’s photo, which gets pulled in from Outlook, LinkedIn, Facebook or a Xobni account. Additional services connected to Xobni include Hoovers, Twitter and Salesforce.
People who don’t use Outlook and/or don’t want to pay for the Xobni One service can still use the app by itself with Web-based email programs running on the BlackBerry.
I found myself using Xobni on my BlackBerry a lot, despite its extra steps and slightly cumbersome interface. For instance, it gave me three different emails for my mom, rather than the one outdated email of hers that I long ago manually stored in my BlackBerry Contacts and hadn’t updated since. I also liked Xobni’s way of pulling photos for many contacts onto my device.
I didn’t see a noticeable change in my BlackBerry’s battery life while using the Xobni app, though its battery will be taxed when it grabs large bunches of contacts and photos from the server. By default, this only happens when the BlackBerry is charging.
The Xobni One service demonstrates the company’s move into the increasingly crowded realm of backup software programs. When the BlackBerry is charging, this service updates the PC’s Outlook program with any changes on your BlackBerry and sends new contact data added to Outlook to the BlackBerry. If I lost my BlackBerry tomorrow or changed jobs next week, I’d still be able to retrieve several years’ worth of Outlook contacts and their profiles on a new BlackBerry using my Xobni One log-in credentials. (These same credentials, an email and password, are required when installing the app on the BlackBerry.)
Xobni hasn’t announced any definite plans for integration with other mobile devices, but a representative said that the company is considering making iPhone and Android apps.
If you use a PC, Microsoft Outlook and a BlackBerry, Xobni offers a smart solution for automatically organizing all of your contacts into one place and allows for your contacts to be stored somewhere other than just in Outlook or just on your mobile device. If it was a little easier to access on the BlackBerry, I’d like it even more.
Write to Katherine Boehret at firstname.lastname@example.org