Vignette is a handy new app that keeps your iOS contact photos up to date

If there’s a special place in your heart for single-purpose utilities that solve a nagging problem, then you’re going to want to skip your daily Starbucks coffee and instead buy yourself a copy of the new iOS contacts utility Vignette. The new app is focused on doing one thing well: finding photos for your contacts by scouring social media profiles and updating them.

Many people don’t bother to add a photo when entering in an iOS contact for the first time — it’s often an afterthought at best. And because the iOS Contacts app directs you to your own photo library to find an image when editing a contact, adding a photo tends to be something people only do for close friends and family. (After all, most people don’t carry photos of co-workers, clients or business colleagues on their iPhone.)

But that means when you use Apple’s Phone app or iMessage and others, you see gray boxes with the person’s initials instead of a colorful picture.

It’s a minor grievance, sure, but one that can impact people with wide networks — like those who interact with a range of clients or customers as part of their job, or remote workers who like to be reminded of what far-flung colleagues look like, for instance.

Plus, the gray initial boxes are just aesthetically displeasing.

Vignette is simple to use. The app will scan select fields in your Contacts, including Email (which is used for Gravatar), Twitter, Facebook and the Custom social network field, Instagram. (Instagram is not one of the built-in options in iOS Contacts, unfortunately).

You can then choose to update each contact with the photo it finds. In the case of multiple photos, you can pick which you prefer. And you don’t have to make these updates one-by-one — you can “Select All” to make dozens or even hundreds of updates at once.

If you’re worried the app won’t find anything — or not enough to warrant spending $4.99 — you can opt to run the scan first, before committing to paying. But if you decide to proceed with the updates, you’ll need to make the one-time purchase.

There are some third-party utilities for contact management, including those that will update based on social network profile data; but they tend to require you to authenticate with the third-party network in order to pull in the additional content.

Vignette does not. The app instead takes a privacy-minded approach to its work. It doesn’t require you upload your contacts to its servers, and it only uses the social networks anonymously as opposed to having you log in.

The indie developer behind the app, Casey Liss — who you might know from the Accidental Tech Podcast or the video series Casey on Cars — says he has a few ideas for improving the app in the near-term.

This includes duplicate detection, limiting Vignette’s scans to select contact groups and better Facebook integration. (Right now it requires a numeric Facebook ID like fb://profile/1234567, which Liss realizes is undesirable).

He also acknowledges that many people are asking for LinkedIn integration.

“That would require login, which I’m currently kind of allergic to, but I’ve gotten enough requests to at least consider it,” he tells us.

The app was built over three months’ time, and is now launching just days before Apple’s annual developer conference, WWDC, where it’s expected we’ll see updated versions of core apps, including Messages.

Given its singular purpose, Vignette may not have a wide audience. Liss admitted that’s the case on a recent episode of the Analog(ue) podcast, in fact.

When asked who the app was for, he responded: “it’s for me.”

“This is really scratching an itch that I had. I really was tired of looking at all these initials in my Contacts list — I wanted to have pictures,” he explained. “But I didn’t want to go through the manual process of adding them all one-by-one.”

He may be surprised to find quite a few of us were similarly annoyed by all the gray initials. The app today is making the rounds across the Apple blogs and news sites, including 9to5Mac, MacStories, The Mac Observer, Cult of Mac and others, where it’s being largely well-received.

Vignette is a free download with a $4.99 in-app purchase on the App Store.