By Jeffrey the Barak
I am an Apple Head and a Google Head. I love my Apple computer and I also love my Google services. I use Gmail to manage all of my email across several accounts and for many years now Gmail has been perfect.
But managing contacts is an important aspect of using computers. It was the first thing I did on my first Windows computer about a quarter century ago. And I have used all kinds of programs to do it, including Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Palm Desktop, and lately, Gmail Contacts and Apple Address Book, with and without iCloud.
If you use a Mac, then Apple Address Book might initially seem like the obvious choice, especially if you have an iPhone, or an iPod Touch or an iPad. Using iCloud and any two of these devices, Apple makes it all work and everything is backed up and synchronized.
But if you enjoy Apple hardware but also love Google’s Gmail, and if you perhaps add an Android phone to the mix, then it makes more sense to use Gmail Contacts to manage your contacts.
Now as you may know, you can have both. Gmail Contacts and Apple Address Book can be synchronized and an update to an entry in either should theoretically propagate across the air to every device.
But it is not very good. I have a Mac (more than one actually) and I use Gmail, all day and every day. Looking at Apple Address Book in a window alongside my Chrome browser was okay except it was also a bit of a mess. Sometimes there would be multiple cards for one contact and they were not always exactly the same. Sometimes the notes of one card would appear three times, once for “On This Mac”, once for “iCloud” and then again for “myname@Gmail.com”. And these three notes might reveal differences.
For someone who likes things neat and accurate, this cross-platform synchronization was quite annoying. On more than one occasion, while out and about with my Android phone, there would be a missing contact that for some reason only lived on my Mac.
My solution to this untidy mess was to go through my huge 25 year vintage address book with all of its categories and entries and check everything for accuracy, and I did this in Gmail Contacts. After adding any card that somehow only existed in the Apple application, I deleted all my contacts in Apple Address Book and on iCloud. All gone.
Now the trouble with Gmail contacts is you need Internet to see them. When you are offline, you cannot look up an address. But having an Android phone, which now reflects all Gmail Contacts accurately and in the right sub-group, there is always a way to view them, even in airplane mode.
And as far as having all my eggs in one Google basket is concerned, I frequently export each address group separately to VCF files that I store on my Mac. This is manual backing up, not automatic synchronization, but it is also error and duplicate-free, which is more important to me than the convenience of background sync. It just takes one minute.
I re-synced my empty Apple Address Book to my “firstname.lastname@example.org” account, just in case I ever want to see it in a separate window instead of in a separate browser tab, but I will not use that to update, add or delete anything, and I will probably never look at it again.
Switching to Gmail Contacts exclusively is for me the best solution to a messy problem. But now that I use Android rather than iPhone, (and I should add that I much prefer Android KitKat to iOS!), this is what I should be doing. If you are all Apple except for Gmail, then maybe the Apple system is more for you, especially if a little discrepancy, redundant duplicate, or missing item is not something that drives you nuts.
Jeffrey the Barak may hardly ever look at his big silly address book, but he just has to know it is perfect or he cannot sleep. And he talks to lamp posts.