Walt Mossberg

New Address? Addappt Lets Friends Follow All Your Moves.

Your friends and contacts change jobs, phone numbers, email addresses and residences all the time. But keeping your digital address book or contact list current with all these changes is tedious at best and often impossible. So, the contacts on most smartphones and computers are usually out of date and incomplete.

Now, a tiny Silicon Valley start-up called Addappt is trying to end all that by making your address book self-updating. The company is offering a free service and contacts app of the same name for the iPhone that matches people in each others’ address books, and then automatically updates their information when changes occur.

For instance, in my tests of Addappt, one of my colleagues who was helping me try it out updated her home address on her own phone, and the new address appeared within minutes on her contact card in my phone’s address book. In turn, I added an additional phone number to my address record on my phone, and it showed up in her information for me almost immediately. No manual changes were needed on either end.

Addappt users control their own information. Only the person who is the subject of a contact card can make changes that will be synchronized through Addappt. It isn’t a social network, and it has no ties to Facebook or Twitter. Addappt says it stores only your own record, not your whole address book, on its servers. The idea is to focus on the address book, and make it better, not clutter it up.

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With the Addappt app, changing your address, phone number or other personal data on your iPhone will automatically update this information for other Addappt users in your contact list.

After testing Addappt, I can say it does what it promises. I tried it successfully with several people. I was able to use Addappt itself as my address book, or to stick with my phone’s familiar contacts app, because Addappt instantly shares any changes with the built-in iPhone app, and vice versa. In fact, if you use Apple’s iCloud to synchronize your own address books, changes made automatically by Addappt can be propagated to all iCloud-connected devices, including iPads and Macs.

However, this is a new product from a company with few resources, so it is just starting out. That means it has some limitations and flaws that keep it, at least for now, from being a universal, living address book.

One limitation is that because Addappt is an iPhone-only app, you can’t get self-updating information for those people in your address book who don’t use iPhones. The company says it hopes to add an Android version by the middle of 2013, and has longer-range plans for other platforms.

Another is that, to gain the benefits of Addappt, you have to convince even your iPhone-using contacts to download and use it. But the company makes this somewhat difficult. Every new user must apply for an invitation code to activate the app. The company says this process is needed to authenticate people, and to guard against a surge of new users, which might swamp its servers.

And the app has some flaws. It can’t make a match between two Addappt users, even if they’re in each others’ iPhone contact lists, unless their current contact cards have the email address each used to join Addappt (it must be the top email on the contact card) or your name and the top phone number listed. Also, I found the Alphabetical index down the side of the Addappt app, meant to save you from scrolling through long lists, worked poorly.

In addition, the Addappt app lacks a Favorites or Recents list. Finally, while the company swears it will never share or sell or rent any contact information, it has yet to post a formal privacy policy.

In many other respects, however, the app is nicely designed and easy to use. Once it is up and running, it scans your address book to see if it can match any of your contacts to other Addappt users. If it can, it automatically connects you with them. As people in your address book join and use Addappt, they also get connected.

Addappt users who aren’t in each others’ address books can ask for permission to connect. The app includes a list of connected users, and pending connections, as well as your entire address book. In the main list, connected users are designated by small icons showing two links of a chain.

Addappt’s address book itself is attractive and easy to use. As you scroll through it, the contact at the top of the screen expands to show more information — such as the city and state — and even the local time (so you don’t wake people up in the middle of the night). Icons appear that allow you immediately to make a voice call, or to send an email or text, without opening the contact entry.

What information for a person in your contact book will change once you are connected to him or her on Addappt? It depends. For some things, like name or photo or job title, the other person’s choices will obliterate yours.

For others, like phone numbers, which can have multiple entries, information you’ve entered for the person will be preserved, and the contact’s own new information will be added.

Contacts’ pictures in Addappt are supplied by the person whose contact it is, and are displayed in a large size on the contact card.

The product has no advertising. The company hopes to make money eventually by selling premium versions with additional features.

Addappt is a promising product that could solve a real problem. But it can’t reach its full potential until it runs on all platforms.

Email Walt at mossberg@wsj.com.


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