By Todd Bernhard on Tue, 06/21/2011
Remember "ACT!" the database program? Back in the late 1980's and 1990's, DOS and Windows users (like me) relied on it for contact management long before Salesforce.com ever existed. Well, you can thank Mike Muhney, one of the creators of ACT, for that powerful software. Now, Muhney brings a similar set of features to the iPhone world, where such capabilities are even more valuable, in an app called VIPorbit.
VIPorbit imports your contacts into its own database, which is more flexible than the iPhone's built-in Contacts app. You can create custom fields for your contacts depending on your business needs. A real estate agent might care about how many square feet a client is looking for. A personal shopper might want to know each client's sizes. An insurance agent would want to track the cars their customers own. You get the idea.
My friend (and lawyer) resisted switching to an iPhone precisely because of the limitations of the iPhone's Contacts app. He liked the flexibility his previous phone (a Palm Treo) had when it came to scheduling appointments with contacts. He ended up switching to an iPhone anyway but still lamented Apple's halfhearted attempt at contact management and dreadful syncing. Now, VIPorbit can do what his old phone did, and more. Your contacts and calendar are integrated, so it's easy to setup meetings from your contact view and easy to view contacts from your calendar view, etc.
As the name implies, VIPorbit treats groups of users as 'orbits' which can be aligned by interests. For example, you can have orbits for clients, partners, suppliers, friends, classmates, etc. Again, your imagination is the limitation. You can schedule calls, meetings, and To Do's for individuals or orbits.
Perhaps the best feature that business users will appreciate is the ability to track interactions. VIPorbit remembers what interactions you had with that client so you can have that info right at hand. This is where VIPorbit is better than ACT. Your iPhone is always with you, but a laptop might not be and even then is unwieldy to boot up and start the program when a call comes in.
Ironically, without "VoIP", you can't spell VIPorbit... and VoIP might be the missing element that could make VIPorbit even better. Alas, Apple "locks down" the phone call functionality, so app's cannot interact with incoming calls. It would be terrific if, when a call came in, VIPorbit would be automatically updated and the app would display that contact's info and history. Unfortunately, Apple will never allow that. But if the app either offered VoIP or integrated with a VoIP app like Skype or Line2, not only could VIPorbit control all aspects of calls, incoming and outgoing, but a user could get away without a voice contract and use an iPod touch or iPad to manage all communication.
I mentioned syncing and VIPorbit does offer an extra cost ($4.99) backup option called "Backup My Stuff" that syncs the database to their own cloud. Now that Apple is offering their own iCloud offering, perhaps the app will integrate with the Apple cloud, but no word for now. As you can see, I like VIPorbit but I only have one criticism and it might be a nitpick. I'd like to see a more photorealistic color scheme. Navigation elements appear in bright blue, yellow, purple and red combined with an almost photorealistic tan background. It's as if there were two designers or they couldn't decide on a photorealistic app or a bright, artificial interface. I'd like to see the app go in either one direction or another, or better yet, offer themes so the user can decide.