Dialvetica



Dialvetica is the best way I know of to find contacts on your iPhone. It’s like the whole app has been built for a single purpose: get to a contact fast.

The way Dialvetica works is that you type in letters of a name — type them out of order if you like — and you’re presented with the most relevant search results. To call my mom, Bea Blanc, I tap on Dialvetica, tap the letters B, E, and then tap her name. That’s just 4 taps from Home screen to phone call.

Dialvetica’s custom interface is designed for this sole purpose, and so is the way it works under the hood. Searching for a contact within Dialvetica is far superior to searching within the Contacts pane of the iPhone’s Phone app.

In fact, Dialvetica has its very own keyboard; built to maximize your ability to search for and find a contact quickly.

It’s a custom keyboard designed to take up the least amount of space possible so you can see more contacts in the list. Also, the keyboard acts differently than the system keyboard: it highlights each letters you’ve typed, which acts as an aid to show you what letters you’ve typed already without having to take up space with a text field. It’s quite clever, really.

Dialvetica’s keyboard is 270 pixels tall. The default iOS keyboard is 431 pixels tall. And if you use the default keyboard, Dialvetica needs a text field (which takes up an additional 78 pixels) to be able to show you what you’ve typed.

Dialvetica's Keyboards

(The names above have been blurred to protect the innocent.)

If you use Dialvetica, you’re silly not to use the custom keyboard that comes with it.

But it’s not just the keyboard that has been customized. The list of the names is a little bit “tighter” than the default contacts list view in iOS. You can see 7 contacts plus the keyboard in Dialvetica with its custom keyboard. You can see 4.5 contacts in Dialvetica with the system keyboard. Comparatively, you can see 8 contacts in the iPhone’s favorites pane which has no keyboard. And in the contacts search pane of the default Phone app you can see just about 5 names when the keyboard and searching field are all brought up.

To make it a customization trifecta, Dialvetica also has its own unique function for tapping on a contact. Instead of drilling down to a contact’s card, Dialvetica gives you 3 tap targets: one for making a call, one for text messaging, and one for email. Which means calling, texting, or emailing is just one tap away. If you do want to drill down to a contact’s card, swipe on that contact’s list item.

You can adjust the “default” behavior for your preferred tap targets within Dialvetica’s settings (which are found in the settings app). If your most common behavior is to search for someone in order to text message them, then you can set the default of tapping on their name to launch the SMS app. Or if your most common behavior is to search for someone to call them, then you can set that as the default. Likewise with emailing. My default is set to text message.

If the person you are calling or texting has multiple phone numbers then Dialvetica will ask you which number you’d like to call. You can pick a number and tell Dialvetica to always use that number, or you can be asked every time.

If you contrast Dialvetica with the iPhone’s Contacts pane in the native Phone app, you begin to see just how awkward the native app can be. Calling a contact through the Phone app’s Contact pane means that once you’ve launched the Phone app you have to tap on the Contacts tab, scroll to the top of the contacts list in order to reveal the search field, tap into the search field to select it and bring up the keyboard, then type the name of who it is you’re searching for, tap their name to open their contact card, then tap which way you want to contact them (call, text, email). Altogether you’re looking at upwards of 8 taps; 6 if you’re lucky. With Dialvetica it was 4.

Moreover, if you don’t type the name in exact spelling order then you get no results or wrong results. And the results you do get are listed alphabetically rather than by order of importance. The iPhone knows I call my mom several times a week, but it still puts that other person whom I haven’t called or texted since 2008 at the top of the list.

Dialvetica, however, does weigh your search results. Over time who you call and text with the most get pushed to top of the list. After you’ve experienced the way Dialvetica handles searching for contacts, when you try to find someone through the native contacts list pane it can be downright maddening.

But Dialvetica isn’t just good at search and find. It makes a pretty good replacement for the iPhone’s Favorites pane as well because Dialvetica also weighs the default list of displayed contacts. This means that whenever you launch the app you get an auto-sorted list of contacts, and those whom you are in touch with the most get pushed towards the top of the list.

And this is where my love/hate relationship with Dialvetica comes in.

When you launch the app is when it sorts your contacts list. Which means that every time I launch Dialvetica I’m greeted with the spinning loader wheel and my list of contacts shifts around just slightly. Yes, there is a great advantage to having an auto-sorted list of names. But there is also something about the timing and shifting of the auto-sorting which makes me anxious every time I launch Dialvetica.

In part, it’s that my “favorites” list is always a little bit different. The very top few names usually end up staying where they are, but the rest of the names have more flexibility. Granted, the more you use it then the more those names settle, but it is still not a hard and fast list and thought I love it, yet it irks me a bit.

Secondly, the sorting begins after you’ve launched the app. Which is a really bad time to tell the user to hold on a minute. I don’t know if this is possible but having the list sort in the background after you’ve made a call would be much better. Then it’s ready and waiting for you once you launch the app.

Since it seems to be re-calculating all the time it feels unpredictable, and I never know what my contact list is going to look like. And that, for whatever reason, throws me off and makes me a bit anxious.

Conclusion

Dialvetica has found a place on my iPhone’s Dock, where the native Phone app use to live. Though Dialvetica isn’t a replacement for the native phone app because it doesn’t show you recent and missed calls, and it doesn’t have access to your voicemail. Which means that there is still reason enough for me to keep my iPhone’s Phone app on my first Home screen.

Since Dialvetica replaces only 3 of the 5 functions of the native Phone app (Favorites, Contacts, and Keypad) it’s still an app that has to be used in conjunction with the native Phone app rather than in its place. And that is unfortunate because there are so many things Dialvetica does better than iOS, yet you can’t fully cut loose from the native Phone app.