Cobook, A Slick Address Book App That Doesn’t Upload Your Data

The mundane Address Book was big news this week due to the privacy fiasco, but here’s a post about an impressive address book app with a different approach to privacy. Cobook is a Mac contact management app that’s simple, powerful and actually fun to use. The software, made by a boot-strapped startup, is now in a free beta test, with 60,000 downloads since it launched at the end of January.

Cobook is what the Mac OSX Address Book should be. It sits in the menu bar or can be undocked and instantly synchronizes with Apple’s Address Book. Any data entered into Cobook gets synced to your other computers and devices. Because it’s a native app, adding contacts, assigning tags, and editing contact info is very quick. Your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn contact info can also be pulled in, and if you hover over it, a pop-up window displays your contacts’ Facebook info, Tweets, or LinkedIn profile. It’s the fastest way to read a contact’s info, much quicker than using any of those websites.

The address book controversy has focused on iOS apps that upload users contact data without their knowledge. For an address book app, you purposely want your data uploaded to the cloud so it can be viewed anywhere. So I was a little surprised when I installed Cobook and got a warning saying:

“Cobook cares about privacy. All your data is stored locally on your computer only, we don’t have any access neither to your data nor accounts. In fact we don’t even have any servers, except for a component that collects bugs.”

Cobook still lets you access your data everywhere, since it’s based on Apple’s Address Book and that’s where the syncing happens. You use iCloud, Google or Yahoo contacts to sync.

In the past, I’ve had problems syncing Apple’s Address Book, so I use Google contacts. To use Cobook with Google, I first needed to sync Apple’s Address Book to Google and wound up with three contacts for everyone. But, Google’s “Find and Merge Duplicates” feature fixed that.

And cleaning up bad contact info is fast and easy, much more so than with Google contacts or Apple’s default app. With 1,000 contacts, I never got around to it. But, Cobook has some neat features that make cleanup easy, such as viewing all contacts with no phone or email address.

One warning. Definitely backup your contact data before you do any syncing. Yeah, we know we should do this but often don’t. You will thank me later if you follow this advice just in case you run into any issues. I didn’t follow my own advice and lost half my contacts when I added a laptop to sync Google contacts with the Address Book. But, Google has a “Restore Contacts” feature that lets you travel back in time with your contact list and that restored the lost contacts.

I was able to get Cobook loaded on 2 laptops and a desktop, and via Google contacts, with an iPhone and iPad. I did run into one problem when I added a phone number in Cobook and it went to Google, but not to the iPhone. Hours after notifying Cobook’s support about the problem, they released a patch that fixed it.

The man behind Cobook is Kaspars Dancis, Founder and CEO of Codo. He worked at an enterprise startup that got acquired by a large company. After working at the big company for a few years, he decided he would rather work at a startup in the consumer space. Dancis wasn’t personally happy with any of the existing contact management solutions, and says he chose to “scratch his own itch.”

Dancis is now working on the project fulltime along with a team of three, in Riga, Latvia. He started building it last April.

Dancis says his vision is to make contact management something you don’t need to worry about. He says that just like Dropbox is for files, and Evernote is for notes, he wants Cobook to be for your contacts, so they are everywhere easily and quickly accessible.

Cobook is expected to come out of the free beta period by the end of March. The pricing hasn’t been set.

While Cobook is Mac only right now, they have a broader vision. Future plans include a PC version and mobile versions on iOS and Android. They might do some type of syncing service, where your data does get uploaded. Dancis says any such syncing would involve client side encryption so if contact data is stored on a remote server, it couldn’t be read without the user’s key.

Cobook faces competition from well-funded Xobni, which recently released a new iPhone app. Xobni, which launched at TechCrunch 40, also pulls data from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But it doesn’t have a native app. It runs as Gmail and Outlook plugins on the desktop and laptop.

Another competitor is everyme, now in private beta.

Here’s a video demo of Cobook: