Android's People app is no Windows Phone People Hub

Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, takes a slightly different approach to social content organization and management, and includes a couple of new APIs to let application developers surface social network data.

If you've got ICS running on your phone already, you have probably already noticed the "People" application, Android's revamped contacts system that unifies different social networks and methods of communication under a single profile, allowing information to be more centrally located on a user's phone and shared out when needed.

The problem is, Google wants this to be a "highly visual" method of contact arrangement, with big pictures of users, and unified lists of social network updates...kind of like Windows Phone does in its People Hub. Unfortunately, it's still far from being a reality. Contact pictures from various sources, even Google's own, may be low resolution and blown up to fit the ICS contact screen after the fact, and social network updates are somewhat buried underneath the contact information.

On both Google+ and the Android Developer Blog on Thursday, the Android Developer team talked about the various APIs available to remedy this situation, providing a gentle nudge to "any network that wants to participate."

"Up until now, pictures were written using a ContentValues object, just like all the other data rows of the raw contact. While this approach is still supported, it might fail when used with bigger pictures, as there is a size limit when sending ContentValues across process boundaries," the team blog says. "The prefered way now is to use an AssetFileDescriptor and write them using a FileOutputStream instead. For best results, store uncompressed square photos and let the contacts provider take care of compressing the photo. It will create both a thumbnail and a display photo as necessary."

Similarly, the Update Streams APIs are available to funnel social data into ICS contacts. Using the APIs lets each contact display the five most recent updates, with their time stamp and comments, including photo updates.

Many users spoke up today to say that the main problem with Google's contact management system in Android is that linked contact data is still extremely messy.

"Android devices connect to multiple cloud sources, so in the case of contacts you have different contact sources," Google Software Engineer Daniel Lehmann replies. "If you make a change to a specific contact (let's say: the phone number of a Gmail contact), Android can upload that change to Gmail easily, as that contact 'lives' in Gmail. However, once we are talking about aggregations between contacts from different sources, there is no single 'home' for your contact anymore. Imagine you manually joined a Skype with a Twitter contact. Where would we store that relationship?"

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