Monday, February 25, 2013

Android Phone Address Book Imports

Android Phone Address Book Imports - imperfect. At least on my HTC One X phone, running ICS,  exporting and re-importing address books had several problems as I moved to a new phone.  I suspect all Android phones have the same issues when importing.  This article discusses the problems and viable workaround.

To export an Android Address Book: 
1.  Open the Contacts list
2.  Click Menu, Manage Contacts
3.  Click Import/Export contacts.  You can choose SD cards, SIM, etc., depending on your phone.

However, when importing the address book back into the phone, I noticed two serious problems, which makes the address book considerably less useful than when it started:
  • Punctuation around phone numbers lost (4505551234 vs 450.555.1234)
  • Phone number metadata lost: numbers no longer are associated with "Work", "Home", "Mobile"
Additionally, some phones, such as my HTC One X, do not have a way to export to an SD card (this could be because my phone does not have an SD card slot), but there is still the menu.  When exported, the file /sdcard/pcsc_pcsc_0001.vcf attempts to write to the phone's internal storage, but fails with "there is no exportable contacts."  This alludes to one of two problems -- you are not given the opportunity to "select all" contacts for export and because there is no place to store it. 

Exporting to the SIM card (AT&T phones have a micro-SIM card) will transfer the address book, but when re-importing, you will have the problems above. The vcf file knows how to store numbers for "Work" or "Home", but the individual detailed items lose these distinctions and the import fails.  Also, emails have no Home or Work distinctions.

GMail - WorkAround

Gmail's Contacts Menu

You may not like this workaround:  Abandon the address book and re-type the names and address into GMail's address book (or import the vcf into GMail and fix the problems). 

Naturally, this requires a GMail account.  (You had to have an account in order to use the App Store.)  Even if you don't want to use GMail, consider using this for no other reason than to store the addresses.  It works transparently and is better than AT&T's address-book and it is certainly better than typing directly into the phone -- and you will find it a safer place to store the numbers than on the phone.

Entering names, numbers and addresses into GMail is cumbersome because the data-entry screens require numerous mouse-clicks to categorize and occasionally the screen malfunctions with minor problems I won't bother detailing.  But, it works and it keeps proper track of the different types of numbers and punctuation.

To Syncronize, go the the Phone's Address Book, Menu, "Accounts & Sync", confirm Google is set to Auto-Sync.  This should already be set:

Graceful in Practice

In the end, the most interesting thing happens:  The addresses magically appear on the phone.  Changes made, either on the phone or inGMail, sync in near-real-time.  I laughed. 

You can see the addresses lurking in this Contacts menu, note Google

Some Warnings

If you delete or change anything on the phone, it instantly deletes or changes in GMail. 

If you are erasing a phone in order to take it out of service, address-book deletes will reach up into the server and it will delete them everywhere.  I learned this from personal experience.  Do not manually select all addresses and delete.  However, choosing Settings, Storage, "Factory Data Reset" should be okay (not tested).  My recommendation would be to use Gmail to export the address book to a .csv file as a backup, then clear the phone and re-import if needed.

I do not recommend exporting to an SD or SIM card because of the problems listed above; it appears the .vcf format does not adequately track what type of phone number it is. Instead, use Gmail's .csv export.

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