Ever since our contact lists moved out of Rolodexes and onto our smartphones, mobile app developers have been trying to improve upon the built-in – and typically, very basic – address book apps that ship with our devices. To date, we’ve seen everything from simple makeovers of the address book app aimed at improving ease-of-use to smarter, “connected” address books that automatically stay up to date (and, unfortunately, sometimes spam your friends).
Today, the co-founder of LogMeIn, Marton Anka, is introducing his own take on the “next generation” address book with the debut of Caret, a social app that includes the ability to share your availability information with those you trust.
The idea behind Caret is to combine what’s historically been a more static database of contacts with social networking features, automation and location services in order to offer users a more intelligent tool for reaching out to their friends, family and business contacts.
The address book integrates with users’ existing contact lists on their mobile device, and then places all those contacts into a default group that can then see your basic status – like “available” or “unavailable,” similar to a messaging app like WhatsApp. Users can also see your current location by country level (e.g. the U.S.), plus time zone and weather information.
This offers all your contacts some high-level information about where you are today, though if you want to stop users from even seeing anything at all, you can block them.
Where Caret gets more interesting, however, is when you start sorting contacts into other groups in order to provide them with additional information about your availability, location, and current status.
All this information is turned into automatic status updates Caret posts on your behalf, with only those you specify gaining access to the most personal information.
To make this possible, the app taps into smartphone sensors. For example, if the device’s GPS detects you’re moving at more than 10 MPH, then Caret can show a trusted contact that you’re currently in a vehicle and may not be able to respond immediately to an incoming call or text. In another example, if you turn your phone face down while in a meeting, Caret will inform your colleagues that you’re not available.
The app can also tap into your calendar to display free/busy information to business colleagues, or even event details to a highly trusted contact, like your spouse.
Before anyone can see things like your exact location or event details, for example, you have to explicitly add them to the appropriate group.
The “VIP” group, which will likely only include family members – like a significant other, offers a slew of detailed information including call status, street level location (like Apple’s “Find My Friends”), calendar event details and duration, time zone info and weather info.
Meanwhile, close friends may be placed into the “Trusted” group, which lets them see a slightly less detailed status, including regional location (e.g. “California”), free/busy information (as determined by your calendar), time zone and weather info.
Of course, like many smart address books before it, Caret is only as good as its network. That is, if your friends and family don’t use the app, then you won’t see their availability information.
That said, if Caret’s user base is able to grow, there are other neat tricks it can do. For instance, you can configure a custom status that pops up with you arrive at a pre-set location and then see which contacts are near you. This could make sense for when you’re arriving at a big event, like a conference, concert, or outdoor festival, perhaps.
To encourage users to use the app, Caret takes a page from competing messaging apps and offer free VoIP calls that include the caller’s name, location, distance from you and time zone.
The consumer-facing app itself is free, but the bigger vision for Caret is as a service platform. Through the Caret API, developers could integrate “Internet of Things” devices like smart thermostats, home security systems, fitness wearables, connected cars with Caret in order to do things like turn on the heat when you’re nearing home, tell trusted contacts when you’ve hit the road, inform friends not to call because you’re sleeping, and so on.
Anka says he founded the company in 2010, but didn’t put together a team around Palo Alto-based Caret until October 2013, after he retired from LogMeIn. Others on the team include Jozsef Patvarczki, CS PHD from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Mass.) and Endre Tamas, MD. The startup is backed by $900,000 from Anka and others.
Patvarczki was the one who actually came up with the concept, however, after realizing that every time he phoned someone he was always asking if now was a good time to chat.
Caret is a free download on iTunes, Google Play and the Amazon Appstore. The company may generate revenue in the future by integrating with businesses, or allowing consumers to get business information through the app like opening hours or appointment availability, for example.
The question now for mobile users is whether or not they’re comfortable sharing that level of personal information with any app or network, no matter how configurable the privacy settings may be.