First look: Humin contacts app forefronts context and privacy
By Stu Robarts
January 27, 2014
A new app, soft-launched last week at the DLD Conference in Munich, aims to take a contextual and personalized approach to managing a user's contacts. Humin does away with the standard alphabetical contacts list and organizes contacts in a way that's said to be similar to the human brain.
Humin has the various features of a new contacts app you'd expect, like photo-centric design, gestural control and a list for your favorite contacts. Where the app differs is that it uses data from other sources in order to rethink how your contacts are presented.
The app integrates with a user's existing contacts and calendar, as well as services like Gmail, Facebook and Linkedin. By building a social graph of the user and combining it with time and geo-location data, it is able to contextualize your contacts in a way that other apps cannot.
Clearly conscious of recent concerns about privacy, Humin has also stressed its commitment to ensuring users remain in control of their data. The company has developed a set of privacy "rights" for its users and all data is processed on the user's device rather than on the company's servers. Gizmag asked company Co-Founder and CEO Ankur Jain what he felt about the issue of user data privacy.
"Right now, companies have told users that in order to benefit from amazing new technologies, they have to give up their security and privacy," he says. "We believe this norm is false. With the incredible power of mobile devices today, you can actually move a lot of the data processing back to the devices, letting users keep control of their data. You can be transparent in what’s needed for your service to work and let users choose what functionality they want and what they are willing to share."
"My biggest concern is that if tech companies don’t do more to protect people’s privacy and data security, then politicians will get involved and pass laws that restrict innovation in 'hopes' of protecting privacy," Jain continues. "Hopefully we can be a step ahead and implement better solutions first."
Presenting Humin at the DLD Conference, Jain explained Humin's approach to designing the app. "The one common denominator in all of your relationships is you," he said. "And so with Humin we actually looked at the neuroscience of how we naturally remember people. And the way you remember people are things like, where did you first meet?, where did you last meet them?"
The developers sent Gizmag an iOS development version of Humin to test. The app itself looks slick and is enjoyable to use. The use of large contact photos and swipe-to-call or -text functionality works well, but it switches to the native iOS apps for actually making calls and sending texts, which interrupts process a little.
The app shows contacts that it thinks are relevant at the time, such as contacts who live in a city in which the user has just arrived, for example. This concept certainly has merit, but it is not clear how easy it will be to execute well. In short, every person has a different set of personal factors that inform which contacts they would benefit from seeing at any given time. That said, can this be any less useful than just a plain alphabetical list? Users can still search for contacts after all.
With that in mind, when searching for specific contacts, users are able to type phrases such as, "met last week," or, "works at Gizmag." This is a nice touch, although it is obviously limited by the data that is available for each contact. Contacts can also be rated based on their relationship with the user, but it is not clear how this affects exactly when they will be shown.
When adding contacts through Humin, the date, time and location is automatically added so that the app can say where and when the user met the contact. Following the addition of a contact, mutual acquaintances are shown and the user is given the opportunity to share their own details with the new contact. The process is refreshingly helpful.
Humin feels like an app with potential. Certainly, there is scope for rethinking the standard contacts application. It is intuitive to use and looks great. It also provides a ton of useful contact info. For these reasons alone, Humin is worth giving a go.
How accurately it chooses the right contacts to display based on context will depend on the user, but based on my experience with the beta version, it certainly looks like a good alternative to an alphabetical list, and is likely to only get better.
Humin is planned to launch this year in the US, UK, Netherlands, China, and Germany. It will be available for free on iOS and Android.